Riding the MTA With Kids

It’s Summer time, and New York City is full of amazing and educational opportunities for kids.  As a parent with kids in the City, I feel that it is my responsibility to find these opportunities, especially if they are free, and experience them with my children.  I spent some time researching, and I found some excellent possibilities. We plan to partake of as many playgrounds, parks, libraries and museums as possible this Summer.  As with any place, however, one must find a way to get to special events and locations.  The bus and subway are usually the best option for anything more than a mile away.

But at what age does a child in NYC have to start paying bus and subway fare?  This is a question I asked myself when school ended, having figured that my daughter was probably at an age where she might have to pay (she’s eight).  As it turns out, New York City goes by height, not age, for whether a child can travel for free with a paying adult.  As this site states, children 44″ and under do not have to pay.  I knew my daughter was above that height, but I decided to measure my son to see if he was within the guidelines. He was. Exactly.  So, I bought a MetroCard for my daughter, but since my son is small enough, I did not get one for him. Seems logical, right?

Not so much, as it turns out.  Apparently, there is something in the air at the MTA bus depot. Yesterday, as my son and I rode on the Q60 bus, the driver suddenly became upset and began yelling about how our society was “broken” and everyone on the bus was “pathetic” because nobody had said “good morning” to him. My son and I had said “hi,” but I guess he was upset at someone else, because this began about 5 minutes after we boarded.  On the bus home, for which we had waited 45 minutes, several people in the front got into a fight. The driver seemed to be somehow involved. Today, however, was really strange. I boarded the Q39 with my children and with some other families picking their kids up from chess camp. I hadn’t even finished saying “hello” when the driver began screaming. Yes, screaming, hollering, yelling, ranting and raving. He began with the woman in front of me, and he forced her to leave the bus, after she’d already paid for herself and her older child, because she did not have fare for her five year old. He then began yelling at me.

He pointed to a little notch in the pole across from him, and said that any child taller than that notch had to pay. My son seemed to be right at that notch, which I assume was 44″ – but perhaps the bill of his New York Mets cap was indeed above the line. I don’t know if all buses have this notch, or if this driver had scratched one there so that he could bellow insults at people, but I was certainly not expecting, upon telling the driver that I had measured my son at home and he was exactly the height to be able to ride free, to be accused of stealing and told I would have to leave if I did not pay immediately. I paid, because it’s not like I would have been able to get home another way, and I have a sprained ankle, so hiking to the nearest subway station wouldn’t have helped. I figured that would be the end of it, but the driver kept shouting at me and lobbing insults for the rest of our ride! He was frightening the children and upsetting the adults. It was highly unprofessional.

When I got home, I wondered if there was some sort of crackdown on people traveling with kids. I wanted to confirm that the rule was 44″ AND under, not just under 44″. I texted 311 about the incident, and received no response (the wait time for a call would have eaten up too many anytime minutes).  While browsing, I discovered that the enraged driver was not the only person who sees red at the thought of children riding for free. This person is full of hate and vitriol where children on mass transit are concerned.  I understand that kids over a certain height have to pay, and even though it is my understanding that being exactly that height is still a free ride, if the driver had asked that I pay, instead of screaming and calling me a thief, everyone would have been much happier. Of course, he later allowed an older woman who had “forgotten” her card to ride for free, while at the next stop threatening to expel a woman whose metro card was a quarter short, but who did not have 25 cents (someone gave her a quarter, and she was allowed to stay). Maybe the guy was just having a terrible day, or something.

Obviously, in these difficult financial times, there are many people who find the increased cost of mass transit to be painful on the budget.  It is especially difficult for families with children, who have to spread salaries even further than those without kids.  It used to be that children received a reduced price in most places – at the movies, airfare, amusement parks, museums, restaurants, and public transit.  Now, with the bottom line having become far more important than happy customers to most industries, discounts for children are fading away.  Many parents go without things for themselves so that they can provide for their children.  We all have heard that the MTA is struggling financially, and apparently, they lose a lot of money to parents dodging fares for kids. That said, many parents don’t know that fares are based on height.  Wouldn’t putting a little MTA info poster on buses and subways explaining the height, along with a clearly labeled “you must be this tall” marker outside the turnstiles or on buses cut down on this problem without drivers screaming at people who are actually following the rules?

Since I know that my son is actually short enough to ride the MTA for free with me, I will not be purchasing an unlimited card for him. That said, I do plan to get an extra Pay-Per-Ride card, just in case I get the bus driver with an axe to grind again. As for the Q60 driver who was upset, I have started saying “good morning” instead of “hello” to morning bus drivers.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I think that you and the other person who was thrown off the bus should contact the MTA write down the bus number and the time This driver has issues. The MTA fare for years was always one has to pay at the age of 6. They now changed the height level which is not fair because some children are taller. My granddaughter is only 4 and is 42inches tall so in essence by next year she probably would have to pay full fare.

    1. Jenifer Rosenberg says:

      I think they went with height because it is harder to judge the age of a child. Throughout the summer, I had many bus drivers tell me that I did not need to pay for either of my children. I did pay for my older child regardless. I reported what happened to the MTA, and they said that the driver would have a hearing. I encountered this once many years ago with a taxi driver who stopped in the middle of a busy intersection because he was arguing with someone on his cell phone. If you report an incident, you are required to show up and testify at a trial or nothing will be done. Obviously, when someone has an incredibly full schedule, this is difficult at best.
      The good news here is that most MTA drivers are nice people who would not have behaved in this manner. We took a different bus for the rest of the summer so as to avoid the driver who stranded us, and we had no trouble with anyone else.

  2. Mona S says:

    This rules is extremely unfair. If you have a kid that is lets say a short seven year old, he does not pay. On the other hand, if you have a tall seven year old, he pays. How does that make sense.

    The MTA should make the fare requirement based on age and not height. I think there’s height discrimination in this rule. The bottom line though NYC Transit is not kid friendly.

  3. Oden Nees says:

    That’s why you gotta carry a camera or phone that takes video… Sometimes the best justice is the light of publicity on YouTube.

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