MTA faces ‘fiscal tsunami’ as federal funding depletes
by Sara Krevoy
Jul 29, 2020 | 6330 views | 0 0 comments | 593 593 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The largest public transportation network in North America is officially out of federal pandemic relief funding, MTA Chairman Pat Foye announced at the end of last week.

With the last of the $3.9 billion funneled to the MTA by the March CARES Act exhausted this month, agency officials say they are depending on another round of stimulus to make it through the year.

According to MTA calculations, an additional $3.9 billion outlined in the HEROES Act would close the budget gap for 2020. The legislation, however, has been stalled in the Senate for nearly two months.

And with a potential impending deficit of $5.1 billion next year alone, the transit giant is preparing to take its own drastic measures in order to stay afloat.

“We are in the midst of a once-in-100-years fiscal tsunami which has left our infrastructure intact, but demolished 44 percent of our revenues,” Foye said at the MTA’s July board meeting. “The pandemic has changed our financial trajectory from growth and investment to one of simply survival.”

Ridership has plummeted since COVID-19 hit New York City in March, resulting in huge losses from decreased fare revenue. Though passengers are returning to trains and buses as the city’s reopening unfolds, the MTA says it may not reach pre-pandemic ridership until 2022.

By 2024, estimates suggest the agency could see a mounting deficit of as much as $16 billion.

Not only has the agency curbed network improvements slated for its $51.5 billion capital plan, but officials also announced an initial $340 million in budget cuts, including everything from escalated fare hikes to service cuts.

For many New Yorkers, public transit is a lifeline to civic and social life, making diminished service and financial barriers to access devastating to fathom. Instead, advocates say the MTA should abandon its costly allocation toward beefing up law enforcement on buses and trains for investments that would benefit riders the most.

“Now that we are in Phase IV, riders have huge fears around crowds on the platforms,”said Riders Alliance community organizer Dana Dennis at a rally last Tuesday, one day before the MTA’s monthly board meeting. “And so as they’re getting back to work and their various appointments, it’s important now more than ever to make sure that every dollar is spent wisely.”

The Riders were joined by state senators Jessica Ramos and Brian Kavanagh as they demanded Governor Andrew Cuomo shift the $249 million set aside for hundreds of new transit cops toward subway service, a move that could result in a 15 percent increase in off-peak service, according to a Riders Alliance analysis.

“I think anyone who has ever struggled paycheck-to-paycheck understands that when you have only a little bit of money, you have to put it toward the things that are most important,” noted Ramos. “You learn to prioritize what it is that you need in order to survive.

“What we’re asking the governor to do is just that,” she added. “It is not the right time to send $250 million down the drain, which will only result in further harm to the poor and vulnerable of our city.”

While citing examples of a “pandemic of police violence in our transit system,” which included a recent video clip that surfaced of a homeless man being beaten and dragged off a 6 train car, advocates stressed a more pertinent need for frequent and reliable service amid an ongoing public health crisis.

“This is not the time when we need 500 new transit cops,” said Dennis. “What we need is less crowding on the platforms.”
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