At an emergency board meeting called by the MTA last Wednesday, agency leadership outlined drastic measures that would be taken if the federal government does not deliver $12 billion in additional funding before the end of the year.
By the end of July, the MTA exhausted all $3.9 billion awarded to it in the March CARES Act, but the Senate broke for a recess that will last until September 8 without passing a second relief bill.
MTA chairman and CEO Pat Foye warns that as the authority loses $200 million a week, it barrels deeper into a financial disaster that has already impacted ridership and revenues more severely than the Great Depression did the MTA’s predecessors.
Contingency plans detailed by the board reveal the burden of such a shortfall may soon fall on straphangers and labor.
Without the necessary aid, riders could be looking at a fare hike of up to $1 on top of a 40 percent reduction in bus and subway service. That would translate to an eight-minute increase in wait times between trains and a 15-minute longer headway for buses.
Long Island Railroad (LIRR) and Metro-North systems could face service cuts of up to 50 percent, decreasing line frequencies by up to two hours. Toll hikes and the suspension of some capital projects are on the table as well.
The MTA estimates 7,200 of its employees would also be laid off in order to save the agency hundreds of millions of dollars, an action that transit unions view as a “shameful betrayal” that the bodies would not be willing to accept.
“We’ve paid with blood,” said John Samulsen, president of the Transport Workers Union International, noting that the TWU alone suffered nearly 100 fatalities as a result of the pandemic. “The notion that you would come to ask the workers that just put their necks on the line by being on the front line of this fight against COVID-19 is ridiculous.
“We’re not going to participate in a bailout off of our backs and off the livelihoods of our families,” he added, suggesting the MTA consider letting go of “high-priced consultants” and “profiteering contractors” before it would “lay a glove on any member of the TWU.”
The MTA will not make an official decision on these plans until later this year. Foye remains adamant that the sole antidote to New York City’s contemporary mass transit woes is federal relief.
“The survival of the MTA and the existence of millions of jobs in this region and across the country lies squarely in the hands of the federal government, the U.S. Senate to be specific,” he said. “The state and the city effectively have no money. In that situation, the only place to go for funding is federal, because the state and the city themselves are seeking federal funding.”
In light of board meeting announcements, transit advocates are once again echoing pleas for swift federal transit rescue.
"Time is running out and Congress must act now to save millions of riders who depend on trains, buses, and paratransit to get around,” Riders Alliance Organizing Manager Stephanie Burgos-Veras said in a statement. “Letting the MTA fail would reverse the progress we've made toward recovery, leave millions of riders stranded and tank the national economic revival.”
Riders Alliance has been vocal on this issue from the start of the pandemic. The grassroots organization has held several rallies highlighting the importance of trains, subways, buses and paratransit, not only to essential workers who have continued to ride daily to the front lines, but also for the rest of New Yorkers who will rely on mass transit as the city works toward reopening.
“A fair and fast recovery means leaders in Washington must save the transit system that is the lifeblood of New York and the engine of access and opportunity for New Yorkers,” Burgos-Veras added.