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MTA board passes budget that could slash service citywide, nix free student MetroCard


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The MTA board passed a budget that could eliminate free student MetroCards and slash service citywide.


The moves - denounced by riders, advocates and elected officials at a spirited meeting Wednesday morning - require a round of public hearings and another vote by the board before going into effect.


"The fight has not ended," vowed Councilman James Vacca, before the board voted 12-0 in favor of the cuts.


"You can't get lower than this ... taking MetroCards away from our children," Councilman Charles Barron thundered.


But MTA officials have said they have few options and less time.


Early this month, the state Legislature and Gov. Paterson slashed MTA funding by $143 million, including payment for free and discounted MetroCards for students.


The state budget office also recently informed the MTA payroll tax revenues for mass transit are lower than earlier state projections. The authority is required to adopt a 2010 budget by the end of this month.


"This is the start of the process, not the end of the process," MTA Chairman Jay Walder said.


"When $400 million is taken from our budget practically overnight, you do have to make these kinds of changes that impact peoples lives."


Approximately 585,000 students use the MetroCards to ride subways and buses to school and school events.


Under the plan, students would pay half fare starting September 2010 and full fares September 2011.


Service cuts - including elimination of 21 local bus routes and two subway line - would start being phased in next summer.


Transit advocates faulted Albany officials for the fiscal crisis but urged the MTA to take other steps to plug an operating budget gap of nearly $400 million.


Council President Christine Quinn urged the MTA to tap construction funds to help maintain service and keep the student MetroCard program.


Board member Doreen Frasca criticized the state for practically eliminating student MetroCard funding - and the city for keeping its contribution flat for more than a decade despite rising costs.


"This agency is in an abusive relationship with two deadbeat dads...and the children suffer," she said.


Walder vowed an overhaul the authority operations. "We need to take the place apart. In this economic time, this is what businesses all across the state are doing," Walder said.


He added that 5,000 staffers in administration is too many and $500 million overtime is too high. "There will be layoffs," he said.


MTA board members blasted the state for cutting student MetroCard funding and crafting a bailout package earlier this year that was incomplete, leaving the MTA to confront yet another funding crisis.


"They're the ones that put a deal together and said 'you're fine for two years, " board member Jeff Kay said. "It's their deal that fell apart."




Free and discounted student MetroCards get priority for funding after MTA drops benefit




A glimmer of hope emerged Tuesday that city students will get to keep their free and discounted MetroCards - even though the MTA says it can't afford the program.


Gov. Paterson said the benefit - which helps about 585,000 kids get to school every day - would be first in line for money if there's an uptick in state revenue next year.


"The first thing I will do with added revenue is target them back to the MTA in order to relieve the young people from losing their MetroCards," Paterson said during an appearance in the Bronx.


A spokesman for state Senate Democrats went further, saying legislators may try to rescue the program by cutting other areas.


"As we work towards 2010-2011 budget, it's conceivable we will take steps to keep the program intact if at all possible," Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Democratic leadership in Senate, told the Daily News.


"Any attempts to restore the program would mean reductions would have to be made in other budgetary areas, and this is something we would certainly like to do," Shafran said.


The cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority dropped the bomb last week that it planned to end the longtime benefit.


Under a budget plan expected to be adopted by the board today, students would pay half fares in September 2010 and full fares starting September 2011.


Eligibility depends on age and the length of a student's commute, not income.


The MTA would have to hold public hearings next year and take another vote before putting the changes into effect.


Since mid-1990s, the city and state each had contributed $45 million to the program. The MTA estimates it loses another $170 million a year by not charging students to ride buses and subways.


The News reported Monday that Paterson and the Legislature quietly reduced the state's contribution to MetroCard program to just $6 million because the state is running out of money .


Supporters of student MetroCards held rallies in Manhattan yesterday.


"I depend on my MetroCard," said James Polite, 17, a high school senior who lives in East New York, Brooklyn, and goes to school in Chelsea. "$4.50 round trip every day is too much for my parents."


The MTA budget also includes sweeping service reductions starting the middle of next year. They include eliminating 21 local bus routes and the W and Z subway lines. Riders would also wait longer for subway trains.


City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, other members of the Council and transit advocates like the Straphangers Campaign urged the MTA to consider using some construction and maintenance funds to avoid service cuts.


Bus and subway riders, who have been hit with fare hikes two years in a row, "have every right to be as mad as hell," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign.




Dec. 16, 2009

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I don't really care about the rich people who can afford the Metrocards, but for low-income people who do not have a car and completely rely on mass transportation, deserve to continue to receive full or discounted Metrocards.


If they do take the Metrocards away they need to keep in mind that people who can't afford the cards will jump the fare. There will be no doubt about that and no question about that, so (MTA) please don't cheat yourself out of more money.

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