MTA warns of dire 40 percent service cuts if it can’t get a federal bailout

Sitting on a Bomb

MTA warns of dire 40 percent service cuts if it can’t get a federal bailout

The MTA is facing its highest deficit ever, multitudes larger than in the Great Recession. (Tim Foster/Unsplash)

With ridership numbers in freefall due to the coronavirus pandemic, mounting debt, and taxpayer-funded subsidies cut off because of the ongoing recession, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced that unless it received $12 billion in federal funding, the agency would be forced to take drastic action.

In an oversight meeting yesterday morning, the MTA warned that it could cut service, raise tolls and fares, and cancel accessibility and signal upgrades. The New York Times didn’t beat around the bush, calling the measures “doomsday” cuts.

The MTA is facing a $16.2 billion deficit over the next four years and has already had to shelve parts of its ambitious, $51.5 billion 2020-2024 capital plan. With only a quarter of its six million pre-pandemic daily riders having returned (up from a tenth at its lowest point), the agency will lose $5.1 billion in fare and toll collection and $2.1 billion in tax revenue and subsidies this year. The MTA is also locked out of the $1 billion expected to be generated annually by a congestion pricing plan being slow-rolled by the federal government, and potentially $15 billion in bonds it could have borrowed against that revenue stream.

So, what’s in store for the backbone of the nation’s largest economic center if the MTA and the federal government can’t get it together? Westchester and Long Island commuters would be hit the hardest. Service on both the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) systems could be cut by up to 50 percent, with only one train running per hour on busier lines, and only one every two hours on the slower routes. One of the least trafficked LIRR lines could also be on the chopping block, though what exactly is at risk of being cut hasn’t been solidified yet.

In the city, subway riders could face up to eight minutes longer waits between subway trains, 15 minutes more between busses, and Staten Island Railroad riders could see an extra 30 minutes between trains. Even though these measures seem extreme, the NYC branch of Streetsblog reported that the combined cuts would only save the ailing agency $880 million annually, a drop in the bucket.

Outstanding major infrastructure projects, long criticized for their high costs and lengthy timetables, would also be stalled out. That includes the extension of the Second Avenue into East Harlem and the Penn Station Access program that would allow Metro-North trains to terminate at Penn Station instead of Grand Central. The electrification of the city’s busses and trains would be paused, as would adding new elevators at inaccessible subway stations.

Fares could be raised an extra one percent and tolls raised another dollar, on top of the scheduled increases in 2021 and 2023.

Even the $12 billion the agency is requesting is only to cover its operating losses through 2021.

“Literally the survival of the MTA lies in the balance,” MTA chairman and CEO Pat Foye told the MTA board during yesterday’s meeting, according to Streetsblog.

Any service changes will be finalized and announced by the MTA in November when its board will vote on the 2021 budget.