Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Kendra looks at New York City’s transit situation and illustrates how one policy decision can negatively impact seemingly disconnected issues.

In New York City, where I live, if you live more than a mile or so from the school that you attend (public or private), you are eligible for a free New York City Student MetroCard. The Student MetroCard enables students (regardless of financial need) to go to and from school for free.

Unlike in other municipalities few kids in NYC above the age of elementary school or so ride the yellow school busses that are so ubiquitous elsewhere in the country. The public transport system is what New York City kids depend on to cart them to school, extracurricular activities, and even occasionally, field trips. In addition, unlike in other places kids in New York can live as far away as 90-minutes (each direction) from the school that they are attending – even when the student is attending public school.

Currently, the MTA – the body that runs New York’s Public Transport system – is threatening to eliminate student metrocards in an attempt to balance its budget (and others speculate squeeze more money out the already broke state government).

While much can be said about the MTA’s mismanagement of funds which created this predicament (ahem, 2nd avenue train line, and ridiculous executive salaries), the real issue is that by removing free student MetroCard the MTA is placing a roughly 800 dollar per student burden on New York City families.

It is in essence a school fee.

Although the issue is particularly felt by those with children of school age this is an issue that affects all of the city’s residents, and to a certain extent the country.

First, because in New York many of the kids who go to school outside of their home communities, are students of modest economic backgrounds whose local schools fail at the task of providing quality education. By denying those who have illustrated they have the drive and the capacity to excel, the opportunity to do so, we are only serving to further entrench poverty. We’re creating a bigger divide between the have-lots and the have-less.

Secondly, we are in essence sending a message that education matters only to those with the means to afford it. We’re sending a passive message that those who cannot afford transportation to school, basically, don’t count enough to be education.

Thirdly, millions of New York City school students receive free breakfast and lunch at school, often the only real food they would otherwise get. Reducing their access to education, therefore, not only limits their future, it also very much impinges upon their day to day survival and also serves to further exacerbate financial issues as families that are already struggling.

The reason I bring this up is to remind us that sometimes one seemingly disconnected ‘solution’ can cause a myriad of far more expensive problems. Eliminating student MetroCards may (and that’s a big may) help the MTA reach its budget in the short term, but it creates massive ripples that can be felt across the city – as an increase in neighborhood school overcrowding, will lead to a rise in truancy, which often leads to an increase in petty crime, some such as graffiti in the subway, which may negatively impact the MTA’s bottom line. In other words, the MTA may find that eliminating student MetroCards may actually cost them more than it saves them. It’s already cost them a great deal in the court of public opinion.

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