Without billions of dollars in immediate federal assistance, the future of New York City’s transit system looks incredibly bleak. At the MTA’s monthly board meeting on Wednesday, MTA Chairman Pat Foye said the agency was facing a “once-in-100-years fiscal tsunami” created by the pandemic. Record low ridership and a dearth of tax revenue means that the MTA is shedding $200 million every week.
While Foye said that the MTA recently identified cuts of $340 million from its budget in attrition and consulting contracts, the transit agency says it needs $3.9 billion to provide acceptable levels of service for the rest of 2020, and another $6.1 billion in 2021, as well as “billions” more in the years to come.
Foye repeatedly declined to say what kinds of service reductions riders could expect without the right amount of federal aid, instead repeating the phrase “everything is on the table.” If Congress declined to act, the MTA would have to issue bonds this fall, and the agency’s capital budget would suffer accordinglythat would mean more broken machinery and delays leading to even less ridership, sending the MTA into what one transit expert has described as a “downward spiral.”
“Our immediate focus is on Washington,” Foye said. There, Republicans and Democrats appear to be arguing over how large the stimulus should be. The U.S. Senate is in session through the first week of August.
Bus and subway ridership this week stands at 1,230,999 riders, a decrease of more than 77 percent compared to this time in 2019. Motor vehicle traffic across bridges and tunnels has increased faster than the agency predicted, but not enough to make a meaningful impact on revenue.
Aside from the fiscal crisis, the MTA’s workforce has paid a staggering price during the pandemic: 131 of its workers have died of COVID-19, and 4,098 have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Foye said it was “cynical” that the Trump administration was holding up approval of the congestion pricing plan, which was supposed to raise $15 billion to help rebuild and modernize the system starting in 2021, but noted there was little he could do.
During the meeting, several boardmembers suggested that the agency should be lobbying for a gas tax, or some other form of state revenue should the federal government fail to fully provide the amount needed. Foye shot that idea down at a press conference, saying that the public couldn’t afford any new taxes.
Asked if the MTA would institute service cuts and fare hikes before lobbying for another form of revenuesay, a billionaire’s taxand Foye replied with the stock phrase, “Everything is on the table.”
Foye would also not say whether the MTA would cancel its plan to hire 500 new police officers if it did not receive enough federal aid. He noted that 168 officers have been hired, and that a hiring freeze has prevented the rest, but would not comment further on the future of the plan.