After Meeting Walder, Student Transit Advos Set Sights on City and State

New York City high school students met with MTA Chair Jay Walder yesterday afternoon for a much-anticipated discussion of how to continue the MTA’s student fare program. The meeting itself was closed to the media, but at a press conference that followed, both parties described their face-to-face as more of a strategy session than a confrontation.

walder_students.jpgMTA Chair Jay Walder and student advocates at yesterday’s presser. Photo: Noah Kazis.

The immediate upshot is that the MTA Board will not vote on phasing out discount student MetroCards at its next meeting, coming up on March 24. That buys the students more time, which they intend to use, as one young advocate said, to ask the state and city "to step up and do their part." 

The student coalition has got to be the most promising transit advocacy campaign going in New York City right now. If anyone can sway recalcitrant lawmakers to prioritize their transit-riding constituents in an election year, it’s probably these advocates, who represent a coalition of youth organizations and have become the public voice for hundreds of thousands of students and their families.

"We want the state and city to get new revenue sources," said Khaair Morrison, 15, who attends Francis Lewis High School in Queens. "We have to target City Council members and state legislators."

Here are some of the major goals and principles the students conveyed yesterday:

  • They are advocating for the continuation of both the student fare program and the subway and bus service on the chopping block in the MTA’s austerity program.
  • To fund it, they’re asking the MTA to use stimulus money, but also calling for new revenue streams from the state and city to arrive at an "affordable and sustainable" solution. They aren’t prescribing any specific revenue sources, but ideas including congestion pricing and a return to the student MetroCard funding formula established in 1995 surfaced in conversations with individual student advocates.
  • They want to "put an end to the blame game," in the phrase of Adolfo Abreu, a student the Bronx Center for Science and Math. Their strategy is to get representatives from the state, the city, and the MTA all in a room together, so that one party can’t wriggle out of responsibility by pointing fingers at someone who’s not at the table.

The student advocates will have a few months to make their case to electeds. Walder, who noted at the outset of the presser that "all of us want to see students in New York City have free travel to get to school," said the MTA probably has until June to decide whether it will continue the student MetroCard program in the next school year.

Noah Kazis contributed to this post.

  • Here’s an idea: instead of just visiting State legislators and City Councilmembers, how about these students replace the legislators and Councilmembers? Then we might actually get something accomplished.

  • So, how do the yellow buses work, anyway? If student MetroCards end up being taken away, can every kid who wants to then just sign up for yellow buses?

    It really is an outrage that the state thinks it can pay to transport kids to school everywhere but NYC.

  • They want to “put an end to the blame game,” in the phrase of Adolfo Abreu, a student the Bronx Center for Science and Math. Their strategy is to get representatives from the state, the city, and the MTA all in a room together, so that one party can’t wriggle out of responsibility by pointing fingers at someone who’s not at the table.

    That would be amazing. The main challenge is that it’s not just “the state,” because even though the Governor and the Senate and Assembly majorities belong to the same political parties, each one can point to one of the others as the obstructionist.

    And then you have someone like Shelly Silver, who claims that he is actually in favor of bridge tolls but “the votes aren’t there.” But there’s no evidence that he’s actually tried to persuade any of his members to support the idea. In any case, having him in the room won’t necessarily help.

  • glenn

    If only those kids were voters! They’ve figured out more in a few weeks than most of the adult population of New York has over their entire lifetimes as transit riders

  • But there’s no evidence that he’s actually tried to persuade any of his members to support the idea.

    Sure there is. First, his previous legislative record was pro-transit and pro-urban. He used strongarm tactics to force Pataki to fund SAS Phase 1. And second, he enthusiastically signed onto the Ravitch plan, which included bridge tolls. Once the project was no longer tainted with Bloomberg, there was no trouble coming up with the votes for it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “He used strongarm tactics to force Pataki to fund SAS Phase 1.”

    Silver? Was anyone around in the mid-1990s?

    He blocked SAS phase one while allowing East Side Access to go ahead, insisting that money be spent to plan the portion of the route below 63rd Street before the portion above 63rd Street was allowed to move forward.

    The result was several years of delay and a new EIS for the SAS. When it went out to bid, Phase I was cut back from 63rd Street to 125th Street to just three stations because the costs had increased.

    And if the “stop borrowing for capital projects and start borrowing to let the operating party go on a few more years” crowd get their way, the likelihood is that the SAS will be cancelled while East Side Access moves ahead. Meaning the suburban improvements planned (and borrowed for) when the MTA was formed in the 1960s would be made, but not the city improvements.

    If he didn’t block the initial plan, the section from 63rd to 125th would be running right now.

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