Brooklyn parents were up in arms last week at the MTA’s latest plan to eliminate free and reduced price public transportation for city kids to and from school.
Under the MTA plan, half of all student discounts will be eliminated in September 2010, and the remaining discounts in September 2011, to help plug their $383 million budget gap.
According to city Department of Education figures, 417,243 students citywide receive full-fare MetroCards and 167,912 receive half-fare MetroCards allowing them to ride on buses to and from school and after school events. They did not have a borough by borough breakdown of these numbers.
“It’s outrageous and unconscionable,” said Michael Benjamin, whose son often travels via public transit from their Bergen Beach home to Edward R. Murrow High School in Midwood.
“It’s so difficult to get kids to go to school in general that any impediment in terms of getting there or home safely ensures that a certain number of high-risk or at-risk children will stop attending school. To many parents, the harsh reality is putting food on the table every night and I can imagine some children would be too embarrassed to tell their parents that they don’t have the funds to get to school,” he added.
Doreen Daly, president of thePresidents’ Council for School District 20, which includes Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Borough Park and part of Bensonhurst, said the move will cause a huge financial hardship for a lot of parents.
“You want to encourage kids to go to school and if it’s a hardship for the family, it may impact high school gradation rates and dropout rates,” she said.
MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan put the blame for eliminating free and reduced public transportation passes for students firmly on the city and state.
“Nowhere else in the United States is the public transportation system responsible for the costs of transporting students to school. In other municipalities throughout the country the local government will provide that transportation free of charge, and in most cases, provide a fleet of yellow buses,” said Donovan.
Currently, with a few exceptions, the DOE provides yellow buses to students through the sixth grade.
Donovan pointed out that prior to the early 1990s, the city and state provided 100 percent of the funding for this service.
A 1995 agreement split the cost equally ($45 million each at the time) among the city, state and MTA, but the MTA has paid an increasing amount over time and the state reduced its reimbursement this year to $6 million, said Donovan.
Donovan said the elimination of the subsidized public transportation for students will save the MTA $31 million in 2010, $62 million in 2011 and $170 million every year after that.
Also on the chopping block to patch the budget hole are several service cuts to bus and subway lines in Brooklyn.
This includes the elimination of Z subway service (forcing the J line to run local), and the closing of the Lawrence Street Station overnights in Downtown Brooklyn along the R line.
Several bus service routes will also be drastically reduced including the elimination of weekday service on the B23, B25, B37, B39, B51 and B75.
Bus riders will also see an elimination of weekend service on the B7, B14, B31, B45, B48, B57, B64, B65, B67 and B77.
The MTA was expected to vote on their proposed 2010 budget, which by law must be balanced and passed by the end of the year, at press time.