MTA allows nearly 10,000 commuter spouses and kids to ride for free

While the MTA sharpens the axe to cut free public transportation for city kids, nearly 10,000 spouses and kids of Long Island Railroad (LIRR) and Metro North Railroad (MNRR) employees will continue to ride mass transit for free.

All told, the MTA gives out 23,123 free transit passes between their Madison Avenue headquarters, the LIRR and the MNRR.

This includes the 779 administrative employees working at their Madison Avenue headquarters, 6,853 LIRR employees, their 2,626 spouses and 3,427 dependents; along with the 6,132 MNRR employees, their 2,626 spouses and 653 dependents.

“In addition the railroads (MNRR and LIRR) offer school travel passes to unmarried dependents of employees who are age 19-24, who are enrolled in accredited universities, colleges or schools. These are valid for transportation to and from college,” said MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan.

Donovan said free transit passes for MTA administrative workers is part of MTA policy, while the MNRR and LIRR free passes are benefits achieved through the collective bargaining process and cannot be taken away without going back to bargaining table.

However, Donovan refused to provide the signed agreements with the MNRR and LIRR unions regarding the 2001 pass policy.

He also refused to show the sentence or sentences in the 19 LIRR Collective Bargaining Contracts that prevents the LIRR from eliminating spouse and dependent passes.

At press time, Donovan was unable to provide the pass policy for employees of Long Island Bus, and Bridges and Tunnels, both of which are also under MTA jurisdiction.

Fares to New York City to central Long Island and upstate New York average over $20 per round trip.

New York City Transit employees get free passes, but their spouses and children do not.

Under the MTA recently passed budget plan, half of all student discounts for city kids will be eliminated in September 2010, and the remaining discounts in September 2011, to help plug their $383 million budget gap.

According to city’s Department of Education figures, 417,243 students citywide receive full-fare MetroCards and 167,912 receive half-fare MetroCards allowing them to ride on buses to and from school and after school events.

The MTA put the blame for eliminating free and reduced public transportation passes for students firmly on the city and state.

“In other municipalities throughout the country the local government will provide that transportation free of charge, and in most cases, provide a fleet of yellow buses,” said Donovan.

Currently, with a few exceptions, the DOE provides yellow buses to students through the sixth grade.

“The vast majority of children of employees of Metro North and LIRR are transported to and from school the same way as everybody else — yellow buses. Very few students take commuter rail to school,” he said.