City Students Will Keep Free MetroCards

$25 million program survives the budget crisis -- for now

By Tim Minton, Jillian Scharr and Juan DeJesus
|  Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012  |  Updated 11:39 PM EDT
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Students swipe their Metropolitan Transit Authority free student pass at the Chambers Street #1 line. The free cards will remain free as lawmakers, the governor and the Transit Authority have struck a new deal.

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Finally -- some good budget news. Students will be able to keep their free MetroCards.

The MTA says it has decided to abandon a proposal to eliminate the free transit passes for students. In December, the agency's board reluctantly approved an $11 billion budget that included plans to cut service and leave children without MetroCards for free and discounted rides to public schools. It was trying to close an $800 million budget gap.

The city contributed $45 million to the program last year while New York State paid only $6 million.

The transit agency was due to vote in the coming weeks on the plan to phase out the free rides for students.  

The move to revoke student MetroCard privileges was met by outrage from parents, straphangers and students. Residents complained at public hearings. And last week about 1,000 high school students marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in protest.

"The MTA needs and deserves more money," said Westchester Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, "but using the students as a bargaining chip in that was never a good idea."

The MTA said Friday it heard them "loud and clear.'' It says it believes children shouldn't have to pay to travel to school. The agency says it's been trying to save money by reducing administrative staff and overtime and renegotiating with suppliers.

"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 in a statement. "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 State is expected to retract a cap on financing for the MTA's capital construction program as part of the deal.

The December draft of the MTA's budget proposed to charge half-fare for students this September and full-fare the following school year.

However, "all [the MTA] can guarantee legally is a year," said Brodsky, because budgets are passed on a yearly basis.  "I think you're going to see them take the whole thing off the table," he speculated.  "The MTA needs more help than we're giving them."

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