Without Road Pricing, Will the Wheels on the Bus Stop Going ‘Round?

student_fares.jpgThe city and state have paid less and less to help kids get to school. Graph of contributions to the student fare program: MTA [PDF].

Hat tip to Ben Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas for plucking this graph from yesterday’s urgent session of the MTA finance committee. It charts where the money comes from for New York City’s free and discount student transit passes — of which there are more than half a million. And it says a lot about the transit funding mess we’re in today.

The cost of the student fare program, which the MTA is proposing to phase out as it attempts to close a startling $383 million budget shortfall, has been increasingly shouldered by the transit agency as contributions from the city and state flat-lined, with the state’s share dropping precipitously this year.

Before 1995, the city and state covered student fares, according to the Regional Plan Association. Then each scaled back contributions to $45 million per year, and this year the state dropped its share down to a meager $6 million. As the RPA said in a statement today, "You would be hard pressed to find another transit agency in the country that shoulders the burden of school transit passes."

By threatening to phase out free student fares, the MTA has highlighted a very clear cut and politically sensitive case where the city and state haven’t held up their end of the transit funding bargain. Sound familiar? In the weeks ahead, we’re going to hear a lot about how to stave off disastrous service cuts, but without a new revenue stream — like congestion pricing or bridge tolls — nothing will change the essential fact that the MTA is working on borrowed time.

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