Why the MTA Should Not Cut Free Student MetroCards

Joseph P. Addabbo Jr

March 03, 2010

Why the MTA Should Not Cut Free Student MetroCards  

Recent announcements from the executive board of the MTA concerning its FY 2011-12 budget indicated that there must be drastic cuts in service on subway and bus lines, over 700 employees laid off, free transit passes for schoolchildren discontinued, in addition to cut-backs in Access-a-Ride. 

 For the sake of my constituents, I strongly oppose these proposed cuts and funding reductions proposed by the MTA, especially the to the MetroCard student passes, targeting a half-million schoolchildren. MTA spokesperson Jeremy Soffin said "the MTA can no longer afford to subsidize this free service," a reference to the 1995 agreement it made with the city and state splitting the cost, each paying $45 million. During this fiscal year, the state paid $6 million and the city $45 million.        

      While we are all relieved and pleased that the MTA changed its proposed service cut and now will not eliminate Z train and Q56 bus service along Jamaica Avenue, eliminating the student MetroCards is unacceptable to our people and will bring grave economic hardships to hard-working families whose children must get to school. The lack of free student MetroCards after all these years, would mean many students would drop out of school, graduation rates would decline, and job prospects for such drop-outs would not be bright.         

      The elimination of free student fares, service cuts and fare hikes, would deal a crippling blow to lower-and moderate-income families. A New York family of four with two working parents and two school-age children would see the cost of mass transit increase by approximately $2,300 a year.  

      I look forward to working with my colleagues in government as we explore with the MTA alternatives to these proposed cuts and seek the means necessary to maintain transit services and improve the fiscal efficiency of the MTA. We should avoid some proposed solutions to finding the necessary funding which include increasing taxes via a higher city business payroll tax again, as enacted last summer, while cutting the same tax in half for suburban businesses. Federal stimulus dollars and redirecting capital funds to cover operating costs should be considered to address the situation.  

Alternatively, for a start, I suggest that the MTA needs to cooperate with an independent audit of its internal operations, make administrative cuts, and examine its contracts and spending processes to find the cost-savings, before it takes services away from the public or raises fares. As a public authority, it has not been subjected to public scrutiny or adequate fiscal oversight and our economic difficulties now make such oversight imperative.

The Public Authorities Reform Act, effective March 1, 2010, brings the transparency and accountability taxpayers deserve anytime their money is being spent.  People have come to believe government serves the interests of politically connected insiders, not them. These reforms are essential to restoring citizens’ confidence in their government. I am optimistic that the increased amount of transparency and fiscal scrutiny will be beneficial to our residents and riders.

The consensus in Queens among daily riders, students and their hard-pressed families seems to be:  the MTA needs to get its own house in order before declaring "doomsday" on the public it is supposed to serve.   I offer the services of my office to work with anyone to save our residents from service cuts and increased fares.