Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another Opportunity To Burden Those Least Able To Afford The Burden

by Dick Mac

Yesterday, I wrote about the City of Pittsburgh's plan to tax the tuition of college students (see, Taxing Those Who Can Least Afford It). Today, another story for you to ponder: the Metropolitan Transit Authority, who provides public transportation to New York City, plans to eliminate free fares to students. These students are children attending grades K through 12. These students can't really get an after-school job to pay for their transportation, the way a college student might get a part-time job to pay the tuition tax.

We have gone from punishing adults to punishing children: M.T.A. Approves Big Service Cuts in Mass Transit.

An unlimited ride Metro Card for the NY transit system costs about ninety dollars a month. A family with three children will spend $270 a month for transportation. What is the impact? Not higher revenues for the MTA, but reduced ridership, which will lead to further service reductions.

Why will ridership lessen and why will this not bring extra money into the MTA's coffers? Families will now drive their children to school.

I already pay for my car, my insurance, car maintenance, and my parking spot. The round-trip drive to my daughter's school will burn far less than $90 a month in gas, and the roads are cleared in Winter more reliably than the subway runs.

So, I will become one more car on the roads during rush-hour, I will be dumping more carbon into the air, my child will be one less citizen using public transport and abandoning the culture of public consciousness.

Yesterday, a friend taught me about the Laffer Curve, where you strive to find that magical tax rate at which the government receives enough money to operate and the citizenry is still enthusiastic about growing their profits. (See, entry, Laffer Curve.)

I would like somebody to apply this thought process to the notion that there is an age at which giving free transport to children actually generates more paying riders.

If I have a wife and three kids, it costs me about $12.50 to take a one-way subway ride. If I am only going a few miles, it would actually be cheaper for me to use a taxi. So, the MTA gets nothing, and my family is using a car that pollutes more than the subway.

What if the subway was free for everyone under 18-years-old? The trip now costs me $5.00 each way, and is a bargain. Instead of getting zero dollars for my travel this particular day, the MTA has gotten five bucks each way.

So, instead of punishing the children of New York by eliminating their free ride to school in the morning; perhaps the MTA should be looking at how much money they can save, and possibly how much they can increase their revenue, by providing free fares to all children at all times.

Irrespective of the results of any Laffer Curve analysis, the MTA should never eliminate free fares for students.


Allen said...

Nothing should be free, b/c nothing truly is. Rather than be a "free" ride, there should be some direct cost associated with the service. I would suggest a dollar. By charging a dollar, you reinforce the notion that nothing in life is free and anything worth having is worth paying for. Likewise, you shift the burden, at least partially, away from those who pay for the subway yet don't use it (directly) (eg, non-riding taxpayers), and onto those who actually do use the service (yet who may not actually indirectly pay for it).

DM said...

Allen, this isn't actually about maintaining the subway, it's about our commitment to providing transportation to students.

Every community provides children with transportation to school. In NYC, it is more economical to provide them subway/bus cards than have yellow school buses jamming the streets twice a day. Although, some yellow school buses ARE in use.

School transportation IS a free (or greatly subsidized) ride that is provided in every community, including yours, I'm certain.

Failure to provide school transportation will result in more cars on the road during rush-hour, and reduced ridership on an already hurting public transit system.

It's a bad idea to eliminate the use of free public transport for students.