Riding the rails on the backs of the disadvantaged

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 4:38 p.m.

What is the MTA thinking? Have they just gone mad? That is the only explanation for their recent decision to cut the funding for student MetroCards, transportation for the disabled, and cutting several bus and subway lines.

In a city that is so spread out, where the distances that people have to travel is so far and some of our poorest city neighborhoods often have the least transportation options, these cuts will be devastating.

Service cuts that affect neighborhoods is one problem, and cutting services to people with disabilities is a second disturbing issue, but cutting free MetroCards to students is just plain racist and an affront to public education and the students of our city.

New York students of color need every advantage they can get when it comes to their education, and for many, that means traveling significant distances to get to a school that will actually educate them and put them on a path to college. It means that in some cases, students need to travel an hour to two hours each way to get from their homes to the schools that can help set them on the pathway to college. They come from Coney Island, Southeast Queens or Bedford-Stuyvesant to lower Manhattan or the Bronx, but if these changes take place, how many students will have to now go to their zone high schools because their families can ill afford the price of a MetroCard to give their kids a better opportunity at a good school? A monthly MetroCard costs more than $80. Some families would have to choose between sending their child to school or paying the electric or phone bill.

The only affordable option left to many families may be a zone school. By and large, the zone schools are schools that parents try to avoid like the plague. They often have the least interesting educational options and are frequently among the lower ranked schools in the system.

The New York City school system is uneven. We have some of the best public schools in the country and some of the worst. Already, Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in the better schools--why would the city want to further undercut options for students of color by making the ability to pay for transportation an issue?

Another problem with cutting off the MetroCards for students is the fact that even if a family chose to send a child to a zone school, some of the schools are too far away for the child to walk. What will families do in those circumstances? And who will be held responsible if the family cannot afford the fare: families or the city?

Cutting off these MetroCards is like cutting off the future for so many. When parents have trouble even putting food on the table, how are they going to find nearly $1,000 extra so that their child can go to school?

We cannot afford to have to make parents choose between good schools, food and other necessities, and their children's future. We cannot make students choose between getting the education they deserve and being warehoused in a zone school. We cannot make our city choose between educating our population or directing them into the prison pipeline. We cannot afford to have people from our community forced to make these choices. Our children have a right to a quality education affording the widest range of options. Don't limit options because of cost; please keep transportation free for our students.