A plan to provide federally funded transit discounts for college students could make higher education more affordable for thousands of Long Island students, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Thursday.
Schumer, a Democrat, gathered support Thursday at Adelphi University in Garden City for his University Transit Rider Innovation Program, or UTRIP.
Under the proposal, the federal government would reimburse transit agencies, including the Long Island Rail Road and local bus systems in Nassau and Suffolk counties, for providing discounts of 25 percent or more to college students who commute to and from school.
"The program was specifically designed to benefit young people -- the ones that make the daily trek on and off this Island to chase the American dream," said Schumer, noting that the average American college student graduates with $30,000 in school debt. "If we could alleviate even a small amount of that, we, by all means, should."
Schumer said he hopes to include the program in a federal transportation bill or tax break extension bill to be voted on by Congress before December.
The plan would provide a total pool of $250 million to be distributed among participating transit agencies throughout the United States. That amount could be expanded in the future depending on the number of college students who sign up, according to Schumer's office.
In the long run, Schumer said the program could pay for itself by taking more cars off the road, thereby reducing pollution and wear and tear on roads and bridges. Giving college students an incentive to ride buses and trains could also create transit users for life, Schumer said.
With the average LIRR monthly ticket priced at $323, commuting costs can quickly add up for college students -- especially in New York, where commuter schools are more common, Schumer said.
About 3,900 Adelphi students commute, or 77 percent of the entire student body. At Hofstra, the figure is 53 percent and at Stony Brook University 40 percent, according to Schumer's office.
Steven Joseph, 21, of Rosedale, said it costs him about $14 a day to take the LIRR east to Jamaica, then back west to Nassau Boulevard.
"When you count that together, weekly and monthly, it's a lot of money you're losing from your pocket," said Joseph, who works part time in Adelphi's admissions office to help pay his transportation tab.
Joseph said a 25 percent break would "make a huge difference."