By Philip Newman
The MTA has abandoned its plan to take away free MetroCards from nearly 600,000 students, perhaps the most contentious part of the agency’s cutbacks because of its dire financial plight.
The state Legislature approved a state contribution of $25 million to save the student MetroCards, the city $45 million and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority $144 million.
“While we had hoped that the state and city would pay the total cost of this program, we recognize the very difficult financial environment for not only the state and city, but for the hundreds of thousands of families in New York City who frankly could not afford to pay the added cost of transit fares for school transportation,” the MTA said.
“The MTA believes that schoolchildren should not have to pay to travel to school, but that funding this transportation is the responsibility of the state and city as it is throughout the state,” the MTA said.
The agency said it had been working with the governor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and legislative leaders to save the free passes in recent months. The city kept its contribution at $45 million, Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature restored $25 million as the state’s part of the deal..
“We heard loud and clear at our public hearings, in meetings with student leaders and in protests around the city that charging students would have a life-changing impact on the ability of New Yorkers to receive a quality education, the MTA said.
The transportation agency said that although it believes it did the right thing by abandoning the MetroCard proposal, “the budget deficit we are facing will increase but the alternative is worse.”
State Senate President Pro Tem Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica) said, “I have consistently assured the public that students would maintain their free MetroCards and I am pleased that the Senate Democratic majority was able to make good on that promise.”
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said “this represents not only a victory for my constituents but for families of the more than 500,000 city schoolchildren who rely on free MetroCards to get to and from school each day. It was totally inappropriate to use students as pawns in the budget negotiating process and I am glad to see that the state Legislature and MTA have decided to finally do the right thing.”
Since the MTA proposed taking away student MetroCards last December, expressions of outrage from elected officials, school advocates, those attending public hearings and the general public have gone on almost unabated.
Political sources in Albany said legislative insiders expect the New York City-New York state-MTA arrangement has provided enough money to provide free student MetroCards for no more than a year.
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said “we are glad to have reached the point of saving the student MetroCards.”
As to the possible longevity of funding for free MetroCards, Donovan said, “We are not ready to speculate that far ahead.”
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 718-260-4536.