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Sunday, December 27, 2009

The MTA and/or NYC Must Continue Free Public Transportation For NYC Public Students

The elimination of free bus basses would inevitably be so catastrophic to so many families that it cannot be done or, cannot be sustained if the policy is approved by any one agency, including the MTA.

With the new legislation signed by our Governor, the MTA may have a big problem making the move that they suggested, with the bus passes (see below):

New York State Governor David Paterson Signs Legislation That Will Make Public Authorities More Accountable To Their Constituents

Several years ago there was a lawsuit to open the books of the MTA, and Straphangers’ Gene Russianoff sued, and won in NYS Supreme Court. Then the MTA hired Chief Judge Judith Kaye’s husband at Proskauer Rose to do the appeal at the Appellate Division, and the win was overturned (surprise???). Two of my daughters were on the Board of Directors last year of New York Public Interest Research Group, a great group that does some very terrific work and could certainly be brought into this fight, if necessary, I suppose (hope, would urge, etc)!

Here is my article from back then:

NY Metropolitan Transit Authority Continues On It's Path of Keeping NYC Unsafe, User Unfriendly

And, just to be optimistic, I really don’t see how the MTA could devastate the public school education system so drastically as denying free transportation to children who need to get to school.(Unless there is already a signed no-bid contract for public online schools to be mandated throughout NYC in September 2011, and this is a forerunner of this).

Oh my gosh – this sounds almost too awful and could be true. Oh, by the way, the City of New York subsidizes public school transportation for private school (+ religious and charter) school students.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter

December 18, 2009
Students See Hard Future if Free Fares Are Ended

When Alejandro Velazquez, 15, was selecting a high school last year, he decided on Washington Irving in Manhattan because of its strong Spanish-English bilingual program. It was a 40-minute trip from his home in the Bronx, but his mother assented, in part because he could travel free.

His family’s calculus, he said, would have been different had he needed to pay $40 a month or more to get to and from school, a reality that will begin next fall if budget cuts passed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board on Wednesday are carried out. His mother, an immigrant from Ecuador, works as a cook in a Bronx restaurant to support him and his 10-year-old brother, and there is little cash to spare.

“If I had to pay for the MetroCard, my mother would have preferred a school closer to me — there’s one right down the block from our house,” he said.

The cuts to the student subsidies for the MetroCards are not yet final. The M.T.A. board will have a public comment period over the coming weeks, and then another vote early next year. If the cuts are approved, the 584,000 city students who receive free or half-fare MetroCards would all receive half-fare cards beginning next September. In September 2011, they would pay full fares — nearly $700 for a school year at current rates.

As elected officials wrangle over the responsibility to pay for the program, parents, administrators and students on Wednesday painted a drastically different school landscape were the cuts to go through. It would be one in which school choice, a program expanded under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, would be limited by students’ ability to afford transportation across the city. Absenteeism and truancy, many students predicted, would rise.

Students have had free transportation in New York City for decades, although urban areas in the state are not legally required to provide it, said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Education. (Rural areas are.) Even so, the system is the backbone of the competitive high school system, which has eliminated most high zoned schools in the city.

Robert Rhodes, the principal of Millennium High School, a sought-after college preparatory high school with a liberal arts focus at 75 Broad Street, said he feared that the change would significantly alter the composition of the school.

“We value the diversity of taking kids from different neighborhoods and different income levels,” he said. “Will it become a school that’s only available if you have enough money and live in a certain radius? Is that the kind of school that we want?”

Jamillah Burke, 24, is the legal guardian of her 13-year-old sister, who takes two buses to a Leadership Academy school each day from their house on 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue. Ms. Burke, who recently lost her job, said she could not afford to pay for her sister’s MetroCard.

“I know a lot of kids who are not going to come to school,” said Iquan Richardson, 15, of Bushwick, as he arrived at the Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuvyesant in Brooklyn. “Or they’ll jump the turnstile.”

David Bloomfield, the former general counsel for the city’s Department of Education, said that the state would most likely face legal challenges were the cuts to go through. “If suburban students have the right to transportation,” he said, urban families would probably press for the same right.

“I believe it would have a devastating impact, especially on kids over 17,” he said. “This might be just another reason for dropping out of school.”

Participation in after-school programs would also suffer, students predicted. Right now, student MetroCards are good for three trips per day, to give students the opportunity to travel to competitions or other events.

The transportation authority says students took 7.3 million rides on the subway in October, and 7.2 million bus rides, a typical month during the school year.

As the cost of the program rose from $162 million in 2000 to $239 million in 2008, based on average fares, the city and state contribution remained relatively constant: about $45 million from the state and $46 million from the city. In 2009, however, the state’s share fell to $25 million, then $6 million.

Several members of the transportation authority’s board said that while they are legally required to pass a balanced budget before the end of the year, they would not vote for many of the specific cuts later. The mayor’s office said his four appointees on the board would not approve the student-fare cut when it comes up for a vote again.

State officials, citing severe shortfalls, say the transit agency should be able to find the money in its operating budget, which is due for an overhaul. The agency says it should not have to bear most of the burden for what is essentially an education benefit.

“No other transit agency in the country subsidizes free or discounted student travel,” said Kevin B. Ortiz, a transit agency spokesman. “Transporting students usually falls on the government body responsible for educating them.”

Karen Zraick contributed reporting.

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