Spreading Falsehoods on Student Fares, Brodsky Takes Page From Giuliani

The Westchester Democrat who carried the banner for congestion pricing foes in Albany two years ago is grabbing attention with another anti-transit stance. Posing as a defender of New York City school children, Assembly member Richard Brodsky sent a letter to the MTA this week claiming that "the actual cost of free and discounted student fares is close to zero." Twenty-three of his Assembly colleagues, including New York City Democrats Jeffrey Dinowitz and Linda Rosenthal, have signed on.

brodsky.jpgHim again.

Brodsky’s assertion is a patently false claim that has a history of surfacing when politicians try to shirk their responsibility to pay for student transportation. The argument hinges on the faulty assumption that the MTA runs a fixed number of trains and buses which students can hop on and off without affecting how the system operates. It ignores the fact that the 584,000 students who receive free or discounted fares comprise a significant portion of New York City Transit’s daily ridership — and that most of them use the system all at once. To handle the load, the MTA must run more buses and trains.

"About 20 percent of the morning peak bus requirement is moving schoolkids," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. "Anyone who’s been on a city bus in the morning knows exactly the truth of that."

On the subways, when students head home around 3 o’clock, there’s a whole peak period distinct from the post-work evening rush hour. "They have to put out more trains to handle the afternoon rush," said Russianoff. (For more on the logistics of transporting students, read this excellent post by Jarrett Walker.)

"It’s just ridiculous to say that it costs zero," said Russianoff, adding that the true cost probably lies much closer to the MTA’s $214 million figure in yearly foregone fares.

In ignoring the facts about student transport, Brodsky has company in addition to his fellow Assembly members. He joins the likes of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whom Russianoff remembers making a similar argument when the city attempted to withdraw funding for student transit passes back in 1995. That showdown ended when the city, state, and MTA each agreed to contribute $45 million to student transportation.

The facts are: for fifteen years the MTA has been shouldering an increasing proportion of the cost of getting kids to school; Brodsky, the rest of the state legislature, and Governor Paterson have cut the state’s contribution to covering that cost even further; and, in being asked to pay for an educational expense — student transport — the MTA is an exception among American transit agencies.

Up in Albany, however, robbing from transit is the norm.

  • vnm

    Thank you, Streetsblog, for calling Brodsky out on this. And I thank the Daily News for doing so as well.

  • When will the NYC delegation get its act together on refuting Brodsky point by point? He’s a grandstander and need to get a strong reaction from his peers in the Assembly.

    Thanks to Gene Russianoff for calling him out on this too.

  • I think this post misses the point. It omits the fact that if the MTA doesn’t give students free fares, most of them will PAY fares. That’s where the $214 million comes from. It’s not about maintenance or how many trains they have to run or anything like that — at least to a very large extent. It’s about *revenue*.

  • Boris

    Just sent another email to Brodsky he will never get to read. Back in the snail mail days, at least his office would’ve had to deal with more paper to throw out.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Unfortunately, I remember Russianoff making the argument that the “unaccountable MTA” has plenty of hidden money and doesn’t need revenues (in his case fares) for 15 years. Like the city and state aid that was cut, nothing that happens now will bring that past money back, and we’re sitting with the debt that took its place.

    To treat Giuliani a little more fairly, New York State provides specific education aid for transportation, and New York City was getting almost none of it (still is). Instead, New York City was paying a subsidy to the MTA without state assistance.

    After Giuliani forced the issue, the state agreed to contribute a share. But after that showdown, the usual fecklessness set in with the aid amout falling relative to inflation (while the fare, net of discounts, fell in nominal dollars and plunged relative to inflation). The state near cutoff is just the next step.

    So the issue isn’t the MTA, it’s state funding for student transportation. The rest of the state gets it, New York City doesn’t, and the way that was covered up was borrowing.

  • J. Mork

    Maybe he was just rounding to the closest billion.

  • drosejr

    Really surprised Rosenthal (my Assemblymember) signed onto this. She usually is much more thoughtful. Hopefully she will reverse herself after hearing from angry constituents like myself.

  • clever-title

    Does NYC really benefit from being a part of NY state? It seems that the tax revenues go out but don’t come back. At some point, secession, or at least withholding tax remittances to the state, is in NYC residents’ interest.

  • Ian Turner

    Clever-title, no, NYC does not for the most part benefit from being a part of NYS. We do get water, electricity, and food from upstate, and dispose of our garbage and prisoners there. Secession has been proposed many times but never seems to pick up the critical mass that would be required to go through.

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