Students commuting on NYC's Metro North are struggling to keep up with the high cost of travel.
Posted by Gen FKD on Friday, July 20, 2018
Most residents in Westchester, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, likely wouldn’t flinch at the high ticket prices aboard their Metro-North train system. However, for many young people already struggling to live in the county on their own, the train fares into New York City can be devastating.
While NYC’s unemployment rate sits at a 40-year low, many young people don’t have access to high-paying jobs. U.S. work-culture increasingly expects young people and students to work for free at unpaid internships in order to gain experience before they enter into full-time jobs. For many, this translates to juggling the schedule of a full-time student, working an unpaid part-time job, and, in the case of students studying in or around Westchester, taking on a second part-time job in order to afford the high cost of Metro North.
Interns can not afford travel costs
Stella Heinz is a foreign rights intern at a literary management company facing just this predicament:
“I commute from Dutchess County … I leave my house about three hours before I need to be at my internship. I usually drive to the Mount Kisco station and take a peak train from there to Grand Central and then walk 20 minutes to the actual building,” Heinz said. “It’s $6 for parking for 12 hours … and then the ticket for the train round trip is about $33.50. I’ve just been doing that because the weekly pass doesn’t make sense and the monthly pass … I’d be paying more. It’s a lot of money a week to be spending to commute.”
Heinz, like other interns, is in the unacknowledged group of train commuters who enter the city only two to three times a week. For Heinz, a monthly or weekly pass still would cost more than what she’s spending — but it’s breaking her bank.
“I asked [my company] for travel compensation, and they couldn’t afford it,” Heinz said.
Heinz currently lives at home so that she can afford to prioritize the expense of commuting for the sake of the experience. As it is, commuting on the Metro-North is her primary expense.
“I’m working another job. I waitress the days I’m not doing the internship. I usually get about one day off a week, which is a lot, but it’s doable,” Heinz said.
Other major metropolitan cities in the country already offer student fares for public transportation to help consolidate the future of their youngest workforce. Boston offers a student discount alongside its senior or disability tickets, while cities such as Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis work hand-in-hand with universities to offer student passes.
“I think internships are such a double-edged sword because if you don’t have one, people think you’re unemployable,” Simone Ritchie said. Ritchie recently completed an unpaid internship with Backstage Magazine. “If you don’t have [an internship], you struggle or you feel like you didn’t check off a box in your college experience … yet at the same time, most of them are unpaid.”
Ritchie loved her internship but recognizes the inherent struggle in access to and from the city. For young people, many apartments in the boroughs are unaffordable — and when the Metro-North is concerned, so is transportation into the city.
“It almost feels dangerous whenever I spend more than 100-odd dollars … because I don’t know how many hours I’m going to work the following week. What if I get cut, what if we hire new people and they need to get trained in? There go my hours,” Ritchie said. “Because I was making money at the time, it didn’t seem as bad, but if I didn’t have a job, I probably would have turned it down.”
Despite such a vast job market in New York City, the high property values in the city, as well as high transportation fees from local areas, are a huge deterrent for young people. Ultimately, the city will have to decide if it wants to support its youngest generation of workers or shun them entirely —– and it can start by providing decreased fares for those who are studying and working or providing labor to its economy for free.
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