Standing at the College of Staten Island, today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced new legislation that will—for the first time ever—provide funding for a national college student discounted transit fare program, which would help alleviate the financial burden of commuting to and from college or grad school using mass transit services like the subway, public bus system and Staten Island Railway (SIR). Schumer’s University Transit Rider Innovation Program (UTRIP) will provide the financial support needed for transit agencies to off-set the additional costs of providing discounted student fares. Schumer explained that every day thousands of Staten Island college students commute to either a local college on Staten Island or via the bus and/or subway to a college in another borough. The cost of the students’ unlimited 30-day MetroCard adds up to more than $1,300 each year. Schumer said that this can often be too expensive for struggling college students to afford. Schumer’s legislation will help provide discounted transit fares for college and grad students which will make commuting to and from school more affordable and help ease roadway congestion by providing an incentive to use mass transit.
Schumer’s legislation works by offering additional federal funding to any transit agency that offers college students a discount of at least 25%. Schumer says this kind of plan is an all-around win because it will save college students money, reduce their commuting costs, increase mass transit ridership, ease congestion, decrease cumulative pollution and provide additional federal support to struggling transit agencies.
Schumer was joined by CSI President Dr. William J. Fritz and CSI students.
“When it comes to the cost of commuting back and forth to college from Staten Island, quite frankly, our students feel like they’re being taken for a ride,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “Unlike other services—even restaurants—that offer college students a well-deserved discount, transit agencies almost never have a program in place that gives college students a bit of a break. The point of this legislation is to give college students some relief – because so many are working so hard to pay tuition and are also taking on large amounts of debt to get by – while at the same time working to ensure cash-strapped transit agencies like the MTA don’t have to shoulder the burden. Over time, a plan like this will lower other costs, too. Whether it’s the wear and tear on our bridges or the costs of beating back pollution – helping our next generation become transit riders is a critical national issue with limitless benefits.”
Senator Schumer continued, “In today’s global marketplace there are few things more important than a college education, but that is getting more and more expensive all the time. Making that education a little more affordable for families and students via a well-targeted plan to defray high commuting costs makes all the sense in the world and is an investment that will pay huge dividends down the line for the students we help – and our whole economy.”
“With more than half of the College’s 14,500 students relying on public transportation options to receive their college education, this proposed legislation will benefit thousands of CSI students at the College of Staten Island. With 48% of our fulltime undergraduates working for pay, and 22% working more than 20 hours per week, this college Discounted Transit Fare Program will alleviate some of the financial burdens of many of our students. Senator Schumer is a tireless champion of the people, and we are grateful for his continued foresight and leadership in bringing this important transportation discount to College students,” said President Fritz.
“With the cost of a college education rising every year, saving wherever possible is crucial. Nothing should come between students and their goal to receive an education. It is for this reason that I wholeheartedly support the University Transit Rider Innovation Program and commend Senator Schumer on his leadership and advocacy. This program will help to make traveling to and around campus communities financially possible for students,” said SUNY Student Assembly President Thomas Mastro. SUNY SA is an organization comprised of elected representatives from all 64 SUNY campuses, and is the recognized voice of over 465,000 students attending SUNY schools.
Currently many transit systems in partnership with educational facilities offer discounted fares for students in grades K-12 but often no such discount is available for students at 2 and 4 year colleges and students at graduate school. Specifically, in New York City, K-12 schools distribute student MetroCards to eligible students at the beginning of each semester. The student MetroCards are good for travel to and from school and school-related activities between 5:30am and 8:30pm, only on days when school is in session; the MetroCard is good for three trips each school day. The student MetroCard is financially covered by the state and city departments of education.
College and graduate students face well documented financial burdens including rising tuition, high student loan interest rates, textbook costs and room and board costs. As of 2015, the average college student will graduate with over $30,000 in student debt. Schumer explained that the problem of student debt is compounded by the cost of transportation for college and graduate students. According to the AAA, in a 9 month academic year the average small sedan would rack up approximately $5,000 in additional expenses including gas, depreciation, standard maintenance and insurance. In addition, the cost of on and off campus parking permits, tickets, and breakdowns can add even more to the cost. According to US News and World Report, commuter students make up 19 percent of incoming freshmen. Schumer explained that a national college student discounted transit fare program would help alleviate the overall financial burden for many students who commute to and from college each day.
Furthermore, Schumer highlighted that the program also provides a benefit to students who live on campus but are pursuing an internship or other similar academic enrichment activity off campus. While estimates vary, some experts have estimated that there are as many as 1.5 – 2 million interns each year in the United States. Schumer argued that graduate and undergraduate students pursuing these internships as part of their academic program should not have their choices limited by the cost of transportation. For this reason, Schumer said the UTRIP program will also cover the costs of a discounted fare for students who are pursuing academic programs off-campus.
The UTRIP program is designed to help 2 year college students, 4 year college students and graduate students access educational programs and facilities by providing the support needed to transit agencies to off-set the additional costs of providing discounted student fares. In order for transit agencies to be eligible for the funding they must provide a discounted fare of at least 25% to two and four year college and graduate students. Transit agencies can then use UTRIP funds to help offset revenue losses incurred by providing the discounted. In addition, UTRIP funds can be used to help cover operating and capital costs associated with providing new routes geared specifically toward servicing post-secondary educational facilities.
Schumer explained that discounted fares will not just make riding public transit more affordable for students, but it will also help to increase transit ridership and participation which in turn will decrease congestion on our roadways and automobile pollution in our atmosphere. For instance, one person with a 20-mile round trip commute who switches from driving to public transit can reduce his or her daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds, or more than 4,800 pounds in a year.
Schumer said that each day thousands of students commute to colleges on Staten Island and in these cases, the schools are easily accessible to mass transit options. For instance, the College of Staten Island is located nearby the S92, S93 and S62 bus stops. The College of Staten Island also offers a shuttle service from the Staten Island ferry for students traveling from Manhattan; these students are likely using the subway to commute to the ferry. According to the College of Staten Island, approximately 2,800 students use this shuttle each day. Wagner College is located nearby the S66 bus on Howard Avenue, as is St. John’s. Students who live on Staten Island may also commute every day to a college in another borough. For instance, a student may travel via bus or subway—after taking the ferry— to attend classes at NYU or Baruch College or Hunter College, etc. A 30-day unlimited MetroCard costs $116.50. Schumer explained that a discounted fare for college students would significantly help these commuters.
Schumer pointed to data from US News & World Report and the CollegeBoard that highlights the approximate number of college commuters on Staten Island:
• CUNY College of Staten Island: 97 percent of students commute or 13,913 students
• Wagner College: 30 percent of students commute or 665 students
• CUNY Brooklyn College: 100 percent of students commute or 17,390 students
• CUNY Baruch College: 98 percent or 14,560 students commute
• NYU: 56 percent or 27,593 students commute
• Fordham: 45 percent or 6,854 students commute