Faced with a deficit of close to $400 million, the board at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had to make tough decisions. The board has a fiscal responsibility to present a balanced budget and a reduction in state funding service cuts are inevitable.
Nonetheless the decision to make city students pay to use mass transit on the way to and from school cannot stand.
According to the city Department of Education, this year more than 400,000 middle and high school students citywide received full-fare MetroCards and 167,000 students were given half-fare cards. The students use the cards to get to and from school and attend school-related activities. Taking away the free MetroCards would be a disaster.
Without free transportation some children will simply stop going to school. High school graduation rates will nosedive. And unless the city finds a way to pay for the cards, the MTA will have the same costs without a penny more to spend.
Coming in a close second, we are troubled by the board’s decision to make cuts in the Access-A-Ride program. The board suggested these riders could be picked up at their homes and dropped off at bus and subway stops that are handicapped accessible. This may work for some riders, but others will have to stay at home missing work and doctor appointments.
Jay Walder, the MTA chairman, made it clear that this was a preliminary vote and said there will be time to review the cuts over the next few weeks to see if their impact can be reduced.
The mayor has hinted he may revisit the idea of congestion pricing in Manhattan as a way of raising money for mass transit. Cuts in bus and subway service appear to be inevitable, along with layoffs and a reduction in administration costs at the MTA.
At last week’s board meeting a number of speakers ranted and raved at the board and its new chairman. Name-calling does not help. This is a time for elected officials to come up with creative solutions for an MTA that is just now feeling the full impact of the recession.
There is still time to save the free MetroCards for city students and Access-A-Ride for the disabled. Whatever it takes, the cuts to these programs cannot happen.
©2009 Community News Group
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