Monday, March 8, 2010

Who Needs Student MetroCards When We Have Jails?

Remember the good ole' days when student transportation passes were just colored construction paper? You could use them an unlimited number of times, at any time of day, and you could easily duplicate one with markers and paper if you lost yours (or for some other reason). Then came the Metrocards. ONLY THREE FARES? EXPIRES AT 8:30pm? What an adjustment that was. But when we figured out how to utilize that train to bus transfer, we could hang out before school, after school, after-after school, uptown, downtown, whatever. But no matter when and where we went, the point is that we went to school.

As a student, I never thought about the MTA or city's lost revenue from my free transportation pass. That's the way I think it should be. That's like burdening our children with the costs of feeding them. In order to fulfill a necessity, remove all other obstacles and considerations. I sometimes struggle with my 4 year old to eat her veggies. Would it make sense to ask her to pay me so she could eat them? Pu-leez. That would sound ridiculous.

Well, that's what this new proposal to cut Student Metrocards sound like to me. RIDICULOUS!

Now, I'm not just an idealist. I understand that the MTA is cash-strapped, as is the city, state, and country. Unfortunately, some items must have immunity from the chopping block. When my husband and I are trimming our budget we don't say, "Electricity? Nah, we'll just have our 4 year old light a candle every time she needs to pee." We would sooner let our credit cards go into default.

I never imagined I would see a proposal for families to pay for their children to go to FREE public school. On the one hand I think our CEOs and elected officials have gone mad and on the other I think this city must really be sinking. I mean, when I saw the preview of the movie The Crazies, I thought "they must be talking about NYC." Who is the genius who said, "our city has a 9 percent unemployment rate, people are losing their homes and drowning in debt. We need a solution. I've got it. Make them pay $1,000 for their child's education." Is it just us regular folks at the bottom who can figure this out.

No student metrocards = kids don't go to school = equals truancy = equals jail. According to the the NYC Department of Juvenile Justice, 45% of children detained were 15 at the time of their admittance (http://www.nyc.gov/html/djj/pdf/age_at_admission.pdf). That is the age between 9th and 10th grades when most school dropouts occur. While DYCD (Department of Youth and Community Development) is offering contracts to organizations to provide Out of School Time dropout prevention programs for 9th graders, the MTA and city are eliminating student transportation. News flash. Kids won't come to afterschool programs if they have no money to get there. If you are gonna fund one, you need to fund the other. This reminds me of those timeshare solicitations that offer complimentary vacations to Puerto Vallarta but you need to pay for the airfare. Have you ever priced flights from NYC to Puerto Vallarta? Yea. Exactly.

I have another dilemma that has been rattling my brain. For the past five years, we have heard about MTA's budget deficits. Year after year they come up with the same solution. Raise fares, cut service. Fine. If that is what is necessary, I'll deal with it. But my issue is, WHY..... is the deficit never closed or even minimized after their plan goes into effect. We pay more, get less, and then their deficit is bigger. This is not the algebra I spent all 9th grade learning. I think I may be on to something with a sequel to The Crazies. "The Crazies 2: The strapped-hangers Start Hanging." I know budgets are projections that can change. But I've worked with budgets and funding for years and when numbers start looking like this, someone ain't being honest.

Yet another dilemma. I am all for valuing workers. I supported the transit strike even though it inconvenienced me. But when critical cuts are being discussed, perks such as free passes for MTA retirees and employees are just not as important. I don't mean to de-value MTA workers, but if we are talking serious financial trouble, then something's gotta give. MTA workers have kids too. I mean, retail employees only get 20-30% discounts of their merchandise. Not free clothing. It has been reported that 15,000 MTA retirees and their spouses get free passes and that doesn't include current MTA employees, which reportedly brings the total close to 65,000 (http://gothamist.com/2010/03/03/commuters_to_mta_cut_free_rides_for.php). Meanwhile, the MTA is planning to layoff 1,000 employees. Make Sense? MTA Employee 1: "I'm glad we got these free passes." MTA Employee 2: "I just got laid off." MTA Employee 1: "I'm sure glad I got this free pass. Sucks for you though." It seems that with every negotiation victory for the Transport Workers Union, more people get laid off. That doesn't seem so victorious. Whatever happened to community members chipping in to enable the whole community to thrive. Oh, shhhhh. That's communism. I wouldn't oppose to giving a little to offset the costs of student Metrocards if it were REALLY necessary (oh wait, I do. I think these special donations are called taxes). I honestly just don't think people can afford to do that in this economic climate.

So, what is the solution? For us, the first thing to do is write, call, and protest. To write letters objecting to the elimination of student Metrocards, go here, http://streetseducation.org/student-metrocards. The second thing to do is hope, pray, whatever, that the MTA and city comes to their senses before we all go crazy.