First the article.
Cash-strapped parents spoke in unified protest Saturday, blasting an MTA proposal that could yank free MetroCards from the hands of students.
"Please, please, please don't take this away," begged cleaning lady Barbara Harris, 43, whose 11-year-old son, John, is one of about 550,000 schoolkids who currently gets a free or discounted bus and subway pass.
"I am speaking for part-time working parents and we need this," Harris said. "A lot of us aren't making much money. It will mean some kids just not going to school."
The Daily News Saturday revealed exclusively that the MTA is toying with the idea of eliminating free MetroCards for hundreds of thousands of students.
Under the plan, students would have to fork over half-price fares beginning next year, and full fares starting in 2011, sources said.
"It's really unfair, half of those kids are from low-income families," said mom Lorraine Ayales, 47, from Kew Gardens, Queens. "The economy is really bad, rents are high and people are strapped for cash."
The state and the city used to cover the entire cost of the student MetroCard program, but slashed their combined funding to $90million a year in the mid-1990s.
The beleaguered MTA has been left to make up the shortfall ever since, and pays at least $70 million out of pocket to keep the program going. But with the agency's budget gap predicted to balloon to about $500 million, officials have been forced to find other ways to make up the difference.
"It's stupid," said Brittney Rojas, 13, as she walked down Bushwick Ave., in Brooklyn, with her three sisters. "If you live far away it means you can't afford to go to school."
"Some kids just won't go to school," her sister Chelsea, 12, chimed in. "Or some might have to walk outside in the winter and get sick."
The elimination of the freebies is just one of many budget-saving measures being discussed by MTA officials, including proposals to eliminate 21 local bus routes with low ridership.
"It would be a catastrophe," said Nateria Cannon, 17, an 11th-grader at Manhattan Village Academy who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "I think it's crazy. Parents are losing their jobs and the fare went up. They would have to work overtime."
Eligibility for a free or discounted MetroCard is determined by a student's age and how far he or she lives from school - not income.
Mayor Bloomberg's education reforms, which include eliminating neighborhood high schools in many parts of the city, mean the proposal will likely hit high school students hardest.
"If you're going to eliminate neighborhood high schools as the mayor has in most of the city, it's absolutely critical to have free transportation for kids, especially because children are required by law to go to school," said Clara Hemphill, author of a New School report on the city's new system of smaller high schools.
"Some kids are traveling up to 90 minutes by public transportation," Hemphill said. "There's absolutely no way to get there without the subway and bus."
Politicians were disturbed by the news Saturday.
"We've sunk to a new low," Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said.
"The MTA faces critically important budget challenges. But we cannot look for fixes by hurting the most vulnerable."
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/200 ... z0Zcvmf1Uh
Now here's the Facebook group created in protest:
The group is growing, and fast. 99% of the posts are people wondering how they're going to get to school and where they're going to find an additional $4.50 per day.