While heavily used student MetroCards may disappear, infrequently swiped passes for emergency responders are here to stay.
Data obtained from the MTA show that thousands of free MetroCards given to law enforcement officials and emergency responders to help protect riders on mass transit are barely being used.
The MTA gives out about 55,000 free cards a year to officers from the NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority and district attorney’s offices, according to agency statistics. The unlimited cards, which cost the cash-strapped agency about $4,000 to print, are each only getting swiped an average of about three times a month, figures show.
That’s not often enough for some New Yorkers.
“New York can be dangerous. It makes sense to have policemen and firemen on the subway,” said Sergio Salazar, 59, a Manhattan rider.
Meanwhile, discounted student MetroCards, which could be scrapped this fall, are used on about 140.6 million bus and subway trips a year, or about 21 times each a month, records show.
"It's a disgrace. Keep the student passes," Anthony Castro, 21, of Queens.
The MTA began issuing the cards to 911 responders in 2005 after an incident in which police couldn’t quickly enter a Manhattan station where a man lay dying. The turnstiles were gated and no clerk was on duty. Port Authority police and detectives at the DA offices were added to the rolls to help safeguard the system, an MTA spokesman said.
“They wanted to put more trained eyes and ears on the system. I think people would find some comfort in that,” said Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.
The NYPD didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The cards are white with distinctive colors to prevent them being shared with others, the MTA said. And though it’s discouraged, officials can also enter the system by showing their badge to a bus driver or booth agent, transit workers said.
About 34,000 transit workers also get free passes, as do MTA administrators and board members.
(Rhea Mahbubani contributed to this story)
Here’s a look at who’s getting free unlimited-use MetroCards and how often they are used:
Agency, number issued, average monthly use
NYPD, 52,000, 180,000
FDNY, 2,000, 550
Port Authority and district attorney’s offices, 900*, 2,000
*500 for the Port Authority; 400 for district attorney’s offices