NYC schoolkids a step closer to losing free rides

AP News
Posted: Dec 16, 2009 5:29 PM

The board of the nation's largest transit agency reluctantly approved a 2010 budget Wednesday that would cut bus and subway service and leave New York City children without free rides to public schools.

Several members of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority 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 when they come up for a vote later.

"This budget is a terrible budget and a terrible situation," said board member Jeffrey Kay before joining in a 14-0 vote to adopt the $11 billion budget. He added, "I will never vote to force students to pay to go to school."

The MTA is facing a $383 million budget gap due largely to a cut in state aid and lower-than-expected revenues from a payroll tax that was enacted to fund public transportation.

Transit advocates and elected officials urged the board to consider alternatives to the service cuts, including using federal stimulus money to run trains and buses.

The stimulus funds are intended for capital projects, but up to 10 percent, or $91.5 million of the $915 million the MTA has received, can be used for operations.

MTA Chairman Jay Walder said diverting money for capital projects to operations "is what started us on the slippery slope of allowing our transit system to decline" in the 1970s.

But Walder said that along with service reductions, the MTA must cut wasteful spending and "take the place apart."

"Frankly, 5,000 people working in administration is too many," Walder said. "We have to be able to do it more efficiently. We spend $500 million a year in overtime. Now, overtime is part of our business; that's true. But we have to bring it down."

Under the budget plan, New York City students who get free MetroCards would start paying half fare in September 2010 and full fare in September 2011.

Charging schoolchildren full fare would end a policy of free or discounted rides that has been in place since 1948. Some 417,243 students now receive free MetroCards, and another 167,912 get half-fare cards. If forced to pay full fare, students or their families could end up paying nearly $1,000 per year in transportation fees.

Planned service cuts include eliminating two subway lines and several bus lines and cutting night or weekend service on other routes.

The MTA would lay off 700 union workers, and management would take a 10 percent pay cut.

None of the service cuts would take place before the middle of 2010.