Queens lawmaker unveils new legislation to reform student MetroCards

Queens MetroCard
State Senator John Liu rallies with students at City Hall calling for reforms to the MTA’s student MetroCard program. (Courtesy of Liu’s office)

State Senator John Liu rallied with youth activists and his colleagues in government at City Hall Monday, Sept. 5, in support of a package of bills making it easier for students to get to and from school and extracurricular activities.

Liu and Manhattan Assemblyman Harvey Epstein drafted legislation to expand the hours student MetroCards are valid, lengthening the current 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. time frame to 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Additional legislation would prohibit fines for students who use their MetroCards to travel to activities that take place when school is not in session, such as on holidays.

“Many NYC students know there’s no such thing as a typical school day,” Liu said. “Regular school hours and extracurricular activities often occur at irregular and inopportune times, making scheduling transportation very challenging. Expanding student MetroCards and eliminating these penalties will remove a significant barrier to success for our city’s student body, especially for those who commute from the farthest reaches of the city.”

The bills gained the support of Rita Joseph, the chair of the City Council Committee on Education, and advocacy organizations such as Make the Road New York, Rider’s Alliance and Transportation Alternatives.

The legislation addresses problems with existing student MetroCard policy identified by the 74th Assembly District Youth Council, a group of students convened by Epstein who advocated in 2019 to replace half-fare MetroCards with full-fare MetroCards. The group fielded a survey of their peers and used data collected to target changes to hours and enforcement of penalties against students.

“Without their advocacy, we might still be dealing with the inadequacies of half-fare MetroCards,” Epstein said. “I look forward to partnering with Senator Liu, Council member Joseph, students and advocates to advance our bills and ensure we get transportation justice for students.”

Under the status quo, the Department of Education requests additional cards from the MTA for students traveling outside the typical student MetroCard hours. It falls to individual schools to make students aware that they can obtain such a card. However, based on student accounts and MTA data, these cards are disbursed less frequently than the standard 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. student MetroCard, leaving many students stranded.

“I’ve been fighting for transportation equity as an activist for decades, and even though our city has made so much progress on this issue, it’s clear that we still have so much more work to do,” Joseph said. “Allowing students to use their MetroCards on days when school is not in session is common sense. Giving students better access to free fares when they live far away from school is a sound policy. The bills we are proposing are straightforward measures that will improve the lives of young New Yorkers in tangible ways.”

Rider’s Alliance Senior Organizer Danna Dennis thanked the lawmakers and student leaders for elevating the issue and crafting a solution that is equitable and empowering.

“Safe and seamless public transit access is essential for kids growing up in New York City,” Dennis said. “For too long, undue restrictions on student MetroCards have limited young people’s access to what opportunities the city offers and have led to unnecessary and risky encounters with law enforcement.”

Transportation Alternatives School Organizer D’Shandi Coombs called on state lawmakers to extend the hours of the MTA’s student MetroCards program and remove usage restrictions so that young people aren’t fined or put at risk of criminalization.

“Instead of restricting students’ ability to move efficiently around New York City and limiting their opportunities to engage with their community after school hours, we should be expanding it,” Coombs said.