After the state signed a $45,000 endorsement deal with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to use his face on city buses, some in Baltimore are asking: Why can’t the state spend the money to restore later hours for free transit rides for city schools students?
In early December, Councilman Zeke Cohen brought attention to a changed agreement in a bus contract between the Maryland Transit Administration and Baltimore City Schools. Up until this school year, the S-Pass program provided free transit rides to students until 8 p.m. According to a City Schools spokeswoman, the school system and MTA cut the end time for free rides from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.
Cohen said it was a cost-cutting measure for the state that left many students unable to attend late-running extracurricular activities.
MTA Deputy Chief Operating Officer Sean Adgerson responded in December by saying any suggestion the change was made at students’ expense to save money “was simply inaccurate.”
City leaders held public meetings and hearings to get feedback about the issue. Earlier this month, Cohen asked the MTA to cover the funding gap – an estimated $200,000 – to re-extend the hours. He wrote on Facebook that the “amount of money is insignificant in light of the pain this policy has caused.”
Yesterday’s unveiling of MTA buses sporting Flacco’s face threw a new curveball into the debate. Flacco is receiving $45,000 to promote the rollout of Gov. Larry Hogan’s BaltimoreLink program, set to debut in June.
As first reported by City Paper’s Brandon Weigel, state Sen. Bill Ferguson of District 46 today started a public awareness campaign asking Baltimoreans to call on Flacco to highlight the S-Pass problem.
— Bill Ferguson (@SenBillFerg) January 26, 2017
“Dear Mr. Flacco,” his message begins. “Students in Baltimore City recently lost S-Pass access to transit between the hours of 6p-8p.This prevents them from enrolling in productive after-school programs, sports, and part time jobs. Show our kids they’re elite.”
Ferguson encouraged followers to share the image with Flacco and the MTA via Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #PassToOurStudents.
Cohen, meanwhile, was displeased about the announcement. He wrote on Facebook that “the Hogan Administration is willing to pad the pockets of a millionaire, while children in Baltimore are left stranded.” He added that the City Council Education and Youth Committee, which he chairs, “will act” next week.
Multiple spokespeople for both the MTA and the Baltimore Ravens have not returned requests for comment.
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