By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The MTA Board officially approved a proposal that expands full-fare MetroCard access for students on Wednesday. The proposed resolution expands access to three-trip, full-fare student MetroCards for students who currently have half-fare MetroCards, and would eliminate the half-fare MetroCard program.
Half-fare student MetroCards allow bus-only access for K-12 students who live at least half a mile from their school. Students with half-fare cards are supposed to pay $1.35 in coins for every ride, which the MTA said increases dwell time and can be challenging to collect.
The resolution would give half-fare recipients the same three-trip MetroCard that other students already receive, which gives students three free rides every day and can be used on buses and subways.
There are currently 27,000 daily bus trips using half-fare cards. The MTA issued 200,500 half-fare MetroCards to the Department of Education for distribution for the spring semester of 2018, and data from the DOE shows that 66 percent of the half-fare MetroCards that are shipped to schools and distributed are never used, and of the cards that are used, they are used on only eight percent of school days.
Assemblymember Harvey Epstein held a rally on Sunday calling on the MTA to eliminate the half-fare MetroCard program and pass the proposal to expand access to full-fare MetroCards, pointing out that since students need exact change, they are required to carry $13.50 in coins every week just to get to school and return home.
“This is a social justice and equity issue for at least 130,000 students who are forced to pay to go to public school, ” Epstein said on Sunday. “Students who are only eligible for half-fare cards are faced with economic hardships and dangerous situations where they may be forced to walk to school in the early hours of the morning or late at night because they do not have the remainder of the fare they need to use the MetroCard on the bus, or the full fare needed for the subway.”
Epstein later commended the agency for passing the proposal.
Half-fare MetroCards are supposed to be issued to students who live close enough to school to walk, with the MetroCard allowing them to take the bus to and from school and to school-related activities but students who spoke at Epstein’s rally on Sunday said that the half-fare MetroCards make it difficult when they have jobs, community service opportunities or extracurricular activities that require traveling farther distances.
”As a half fare student, I am forced to walk and beg my friends for two-trip MetroCards whenever I need to go to Track or any extracurricular activities outside of the school,” said Adam F., a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. “I am forced to walk even if I am injured, too sick to walk, or whenever I carry heavy loads of school equipment to reach school.”
The MTA expects the plan to cost the agency $200,000.