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Student MetroCards saved, but more cuts to MTA ahead

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

Students across the city are breathing a sigh of relief. After a slew of protests and major backlash, a deal has been reached to allow students to keep their free MetroCards to get to school.

Reports indicate that the deal was reached late Thursday afternoon for the state and the city to pitch in the needed funds for the MetroCards. The MTA, state legislators and Gov. David Paterson all came together to keep the program running.

"Today, we kept our promise to New York's children by protecting their access to a reliable and affordable means of mass transit. While the benefits of a quality education are priceless, the cost of transportation for our students should remain affordable," said Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson.

The threat to take student MetroCards was announced by the MTA in late 2009 in an effort to fill an $800 million budget gap. Over half a million students would have been affected by the elimination of the MetroCards.

Last Friday, hundreds of students gathered at City Hall to protest the removal of free student MetroCards. The students said they rely on the program to get to and from schools that aren't in their neighborhoods. Critics said that taking the MetroCards would have increased truancies and arrests for youths jumping turnstiles.

The state plans to pay $25 million to keep the program going, along with state legislatures lifting the cap on its five-year borrowing plan for the MTA.

The MTA said that after numerous public hearings, protests and meetings, taking away the student MetroCards would have a "life-changing" impact on public education in the city.

"The economic downturn has created a fiscal crisis for the state, city and the MTA. The MTA has been doing its part to lower costs by reducing administrative staff, renegotiating with our suppliers and working to reduce overtime," said the MTA in a statement. "But these actions are not enough to close an $800 million budget shortfall, and we've been forced to make tough choices, like cutting service and eliminating free and discounted MetroCards for New York City students."

The MTA added that school children should not have to pay to travel to school, but that funding public transportation is the responsibility of the state and city, as it is throughout the state.

For the past few months, the MTA said it has worked closely with the governor, mayor and legislators on the issue. The city has held its contribution steady at $45 million, while the governor and legislature recognized the state's role by restoring $25 million.

"In light of these unbearable impacts, the MTA has decided to abandon the proposal to charge students for travel to and from school. As a result, the budget deficit that we are facing will increase, but the alternative is worse. Further actions needed to close this gap will be addressed when our preliminary financial plan is released in July," said the MTA.

While student MetroCards are no longer on the chopping block, the MTA announced several cuts that could cripple public transportation.

Reports indicate that the MTA plans to reduce service on 28 bus routes across the city, along with reducing four early morning No. 7 express trains. Express service on this subway line that provides service in Queens will be pushed back from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m.