Students Rally for Free MetroCards

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Hundreds of New York City high school students walked out of class Friday afternoon and converged near City Hall, where they held a fiery rally over the MTA’s proposed plan to eliminate student MetroCards. Most of the students said their families cannot afford to pay $1,000 a year per child for unlimited-ride MetroCards.

“I’m eighteen. I have seven younger siblings,” said eleventh-grader Anthony Ruaz. “It would be really hard for my mother to fork up a whole bunch of money so she could send me to school.”

More than 500,000 city students receive free or reduced-fare MetroCards to get to and from school. The MTA has proposed ending the free rides as part of its effort to close an $800 million budget gap.

Next to City Hall Park, the students waved home-made signs and chanted slogans like “This is what democracy looks like!” One student led a call-and-response that went on for half an hour and stirred up the growing crowd of high-schoolers, which continued to pour in from across the five boroughs.

Some of the chants called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to do more for students, including bumping up the budget for free transit passes to $65 million.

Hours before the protest, in his weekly radio address, Bloomberg pointed out that the city has not cut any money from its annual $45 million allocation for student MetroCards, despite cutting police, fire, and other services. The mayor had some advice for the students.

“Maybe they should be at the state capitol steps and not at the City Hall steps,” Bloomberg said.

City Council members Letitia James and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn stepped out from budget negotiations to address the students from a small stage on the sidewalk.

“I’m so proud of these students,” James said after speaking to the students. “Clearly education is the key to success, and though these students took two, three hours out of their school day to come down here, this is a lesson in civics. A lesson in participation and government.”

Members of Transport Workers’ Union Local 100 also came out to support the students.

“How are else are you going to get to school?” asked Paul Flores, a station agent and union member who watches students go through the turnstiles every day in the Bronx. “You're not going to walk. You're not going to walk to another borough, you know. If you live in Brooklyn or you live in the Bronx and you go to school in Manhattan, how are you expected to get there?”

After the rally near City Hall, the students crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot on their way to another rally.

An MTA spokesperson said Friday that the Authority is working on finding a way for students to keep their free transit passes. The MTA plans to discuss the issue at its next board meeting on June 23.