For decades it has been as much a part of the school year as textbooks, bag lunches and gym, but the free student MetroCard is under threat and hundreds of protesters today said they are ready to fight the proposed change.
The MetroCard is a kind of badge of honor for half a million school kids in the city, no matter the length of commute: the Bx-21 to the 5 Train or the N to the R to the Q.
It's all been free, thanks to a steady item in the MTA budget. But the famously cash-strapped agency just voted to get rid of the free rides for kids. Officials called it a painful but necessary cut in the face of a $400 Million budget deficit.
But today, hundreds of students yelled back in what organizers called a "Day of Outrage."
Protest organizers promised thousands, but only several hundred showed up -- a thinning possibly due to weather or the approaching Christmas holiday.
Demonstrators were packed into metal pens which the NYPD set up on Madison Avenue, about 30 yards west of the entrance to MTA Headquarters. Kids ranging in age from 13 to 17 carried signs, huddled together, and chanted "No transportation, no education!" Several of the hand-made signs read "Save the Students, Not The Bankers."
Samad Ahmed, 16, who takes the N Train to get to school in The Flatiron District, put it this way: "I mean we're in a recession. I don't know how you expect my Dad, who drives a car for a living and works real hard to keep us fed, to take on another burden. It's unfair."
And other students said if they're forced to pay for their transportation, they might skip school. "By taking this away they're going to start a whole chain of events," said Jordan Orvam, a high school senior in the Bronx. "Absences, illegal activity. I don't think they realize the consequences of what they're about to do."
Elected officials say with enough pressure, the MTA can put the student rides back in the budget before the cuts take effect next summer.