MTA is being ‘unfare’: every NYC student deserves free MetroCards

Amanda Salazar

One of the fondest memories that many New York City public school students remember from their days in middle and high school is getting to use their free student MetroCards.

These cards meant that one could get to and from school using public transportation — which many public school students do use — free of charge, up to three times a day.

As great as this sounds, the system is exclusionary for many children, because the list of requirements to receive a student MetroCard is long and extremely specific.

The distance from school, age of the child, even the program that the student is in can make or break the student’s chances of getting a MetroCard from their school.

Essentially, this resource is denied to many students because of unnecessary barriers put in place to make the city and the Metropolitan Transit Authority more money. Once students do get a card, there are even more complications that make the program less useful than it can potentially be.

First, there are students who can’t even get a student MetroCard because they’re too young or don’t live far enough from their school. 

According to the New York City Department of Education’s website, students of any age must be at least half a mile from the school that they’re enrolled in to qualify for a free MetroCard. At first glance, this seems reasonable, since half a mile isn’t very far.

But it’s crucial to remember that these are children — kids as young as five years old — that are being discussed here. Some students can’t walk this distance by themselves, and not all parents can take their children to school without being late to work.

Is that really the age demographic that the city wants to have to walk in the early mornings? What about in the winter, when it gets dark out early, as early as some students are getting out of school? Or when it snows or rains?

Yes, half a mile is not a long distance, but it’s not fair that students are expected to walk to and from school every day no matter the weather or other circumstances just because of their home address.

The city does offer exceptions to this requirement, such as if the student has a medical or health concern and turns in a document signed by their parent and doctor, or if they have an emergency circumstance, such as they have an order of protection against someone or are in foster care.

However, some of the exceptions to this rule only apply to the younger public-school students and leave out high school students and later-middle school students. Even if multiple siblings travel to school together and some are older than others, they’re still all minors.

Additionally, despite the fact that there are exceptions to the rigid distance requirement, it still doesn’t take into account a lot of factors  — like the weather or the school being located in a high-crime neighborhood.

Not to mention, taking public transportation becomes a social activity for many students since they end up taking the bus or train with their friends who live nearby. Being denied access to free public transit can unintentionally deny students this experience as well.

While it is true that students can take public transportation even if they are not eligible for a student MetroCard by paying for a regular one, but this is not an option for all families and all kids — and the city knows that.

It is unfair and unethical to leave some students behind when it comes to accessing transportation to get them to school.

Students cannot be expected to do well in school if they can’t get there on time or have to wake up extremely early to get there because they had to get there on foot. Students may even feel less inclined to show up to school in the first place if they know it means having to walk through a dangerous area to get there.

A free student MetroCards is just one of the many ploys the city of New York puts out to sound like it’s helping its residents when it’s actually only doing half the job.

It’s time for the city to give all New York City students access to free public transportation without any roadblocks.