State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and state Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Glendale) joined students outside Richmond Hill High School last week to call on the MTA to keep free student MetroCards.
“We’re here to say that that is wrong,” Addabbo said of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s budget, which is considering canceling free MetroCards for students.
Addabbo said a family with two students will have to pay $2,000 a year on MetroCards if the MTA’s plan goes through.
He said the state Legislature may be able to find enough funds needed to continue free student MetroCards in June, but he also said the MTA can take measures to keep the free MetroCards.
“I say the MTA has to look at itself in the mirror,” Addabbo said, suggesting the agency should make internal budget cuts before slashing services like the free MetroCards.
He said the agency gives out more than 50,000 free MetroCards to its employees, including MTA Chairman Jay Walder.
“I think Jay Walder can afford the transportation,” Addabbo said. “I don’t think our children can.”
The senator said Long Island Rail Road workers, their spouses and children and spouses of LIRR retirees receive 9,000 free MetroCards at a cost of $3 million.
Metro-North Railroad gives 4,000 free MetroCards to those same groups, Addabbo said, which are worth $2 million.
Miller said the MTA’s plan is unfair to students.
“I think it’s outrageous that the MTA is holding our children hostage,” he said. “Our children shouldn’t have to struggle to find ways to get to school. Education is free, their transportation should be free.”
Sharmin Hossain, a Bayside High School student and a youth organizer and community activist with South Asian Youth Action, argued that cutting out free student MetroCards will lead to increased absenteeism and truancy rates.
“We feel like student MetroCards are a right,” she said. “By revoking student MetroCards, education is not accessible.”
Since 1995, the MTA, state and city have agreed to pay 1/3 each toward the cost of free student MetroCards.
“Why does the budget have to be balanced on the backs of students?” Hossain said.
Addabbo said he held the news conference at Richmond Hill HS because the MetroCard issue was the top complaint among students when he visited there earlier in the school year.
“This issue ... is on the mind of every student throughout the city,” he said.
Prabhjot Kaur, a Hillcrest HS student, said she would face difficulty getting to school if she had to pay for public transportation.
“Without MetroCards, I have no future, no studies,” she said.
Audrey Graves, parent coordinator at the HS for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture in Ozone Park, said parents will face hard choices if the MTA does not keep free student MetroCards.
“Parents shouldn’t be forced to choose between feeding their family well and providing transportation for two and three kids,” she said.
Addabbo said there was no talk of a compromise with the MTA providing reduced-fare MetroCards, saying the Legislature is calling for free cards.
“Anything else is unacceptable at this point,” he said.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz
©2010 Community News Group
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