The Case Of The Missing Metrocards

For the first two weeks of the fall semester, hundreds of seniors did not have access to their school MetroCards.

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By Skye McArthur

One of the biggest perks of attending a New York City public school is the free MetroCard. It allows students to get to school efficiently for no cost, saving them and their families at least $6 per day. This year, the Department of Education (DOE) had numerous policy changes which, in conjunction with a citywide shortage of school MetroCards, puzzled even the Stuyvesant administrators. These factors led to over six hundred seniors not receiving their MetroCards until nineteen days into the school year.

The majority of the administration’s confusion came from a change in how the school obtained student MetroCards. “In the past we had to go to pick up the cards from Long Island City, from the Office of Pupil Transportation, simply to save one or two days in mailing them to us,” Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick explained.

This year, however, the DOE mailed the cards to the school, arriving at a date earlier than anticipated. “[It] was very shocking and very exciting because this was going to be the first time ever that we were able to give MetroCards out to freshmen at camp Stuy,” Pedrick added.

Once the initial surprise wore off, though, the administration noticed a problem. “On August 30, I wrote [to the DOE] and said, we have a register of nearly 3,300 students and our MetroCard shipment [numbered] 2,659,” Pedrick revealed.

The former system gave the administration control over when all the MetroCards were obtained. Losing that control made the problem much more difficult to solve because Stuyvesant officials couldn’t just go pick up extra cards. “For some reason, this year, [the Department of Transportation and the DOE] have decided to move the distribution of cards to somewhere in New Jersey, and you're no longer allowed to go directly there to pick [them] up,” Pedrick explained.

This shortage forced many students to spend extra money in order to travel to and from school. “I am, I want to say, thirty-five dollars down from having to pay for my own trips, twice a day for like [...] two and a half weeks,” senior Petr Ermishkin shared.

The lack of MetroCards also impacted students in other ways, adding logistical challenges that exacerbated problems caused by their already packed schedules. “I had to take my brother’s MetroCard, and that became a problem because he [wanted] to use it to go places as well, so he was basically forced [...] to only go to school and come back,” senior Brian Chau said. “I just had to make sure to get it back to him [...] so it’s just sort of frustrating to me.”

The administration attempted to mitigate these problems by asking the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to allow students onto trains for free in the interim. “[We reached out and said,] ‘Hi MTA, this is a problem we’re experiencing, can we work something out? If you see a high school student is showing you an ID, can we just let them through until this problem is solved?’ That wasn’t really answered,” Pedrick explained.

On September 15, Pedrick sent seniors a document that they could show to MTA workers in order to receive free entrance onto public transportation. The contents of this letter gave a brief overview of Stuyveant’s MetroCard shortage, and then asked station managers to “please allow Stuyvesant High School student [student’s name] access to the subway/city bus fare-free while our school sorts this out.”

However, despite these steps to improve the situation for students, the administration didn’t provide them an explanation for the shortage, leaving students to speculate about what happened. “I think it was that someone accidentally destroyed [a number of] them or made them unusable and they didn’t have a backup supply ready,” Chau guessed. 

The seniors’ frustration with the MetroCard shortage was heightened by what they felt was insufficient information provided by the school administration about the situation. “[There was] just no actual communication until the very end,” Ermishkin said. 

Chau corroborated this claim. “They didn’t tell us anything. They just kept saying we don’t have it. They never mentioned a time when they would have it, nor did they make it easy for us to go to school without it,” Chau added.

If the administration had had a chance to redo their handling of the situation, they would have taken different steps to obtain the MetroCards and would have been more communicative with the student body. “Hindsight [being] twenty-twenty, I should have gone to this director [of the Office of Pupil Transportation] first and not tried a series of outreaches to our assigned person,” Pedrick said. “All in all, we should have done more [and had] better communication, and that's on me.”

The damages caused by the entire situation could be resolved if students were refunded for the money they spent on transit fares. Unfortunately, there is little hope of this happening. “Do I think there should be reimbursements? Yes. Do I know any program or communication from the DOE or the Office of Pupil Transportation for such a program? No,” Pedrick concluded.