MTA Could Approve Massive Service Cuts, Layoffs in Mid-December

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Without another stimulus effort from Washington, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is prepared to decide on "draconian" service cuts and layoffs after sounding the alarm for months of a multi-billion dollar shortfall brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Significant budget-saving measures could be decided on as soon as next month and approved by December, MTA Chairman Pat Foye said Friday.

"Our estimate, if we had to make the service cuts that we described a couple of months ago, up to 50 percent on Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, up to 40 percent on subways and buses, laying off about 8,000 people," Foye told WCBS 880's Steve Scott.

The MTA board is scheduled to take up the budget and financial plan at next month's meeting and give approval in December, Foye detailed.

"No one at the MTA wants to do this, and it's in the interest, frankly, of the New York City regional economy, but also the national economy that we get this funding since the New York economy accounts for about 10 percent of economic activity across the county," Foye said.

The MTA received $4 billion from the federal government earlier this year but has asked for an additional $12 billion. It is uncertain whether additional money for transit assistance will be included in future COVID-19 stimulus bills.

Motorists and mass transit riders in New York are already facing fare and toll increases next year. Tolls and fares are planned to increase 4 percent in both years, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said earlier this month.

Failure to address the problem “would mark the end of regional public transit as we know it,” DiNapoli said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.

Ridership plummeted more than 90 percent on subways during the height of the pandemic, and riders have only slowly begun to return in recent months. Subway ridership remains down about 70 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels, DiNapoli said, far below the MTA’s projections from several months ago. Traffic at toll bridges and tunnels also dropped steeply.

Subway ridership surpasses more than 5 million daily during normal times.

“Any projections are problematic at this point,” DiNapoli said, referring to mass transit ridership. “But the overall expectation is that you won’t see a return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023. And that’s obviously a big ‘if.’ A lot is still to be determined.”

Even if normal ridership returns by 2023, the MTA still projects budget deficits totaling more than $19 billion through 2024, according to DiNapoli’s report. Included in that is a projected $6.3 billion deficit in 2021, which would be more than 50 percent of total revenues. The report called the gaps “historic in nature.”

The projected fare and toll increases would raise $145 million in 2021 and rise to $650 million by 2024, according to the report.

Increased cleaning and disinfecting of the subway, rail and bus systems — which has included the rare step of closing subways overnight — is costing the MTA about $1 billion in unplanned expenses, DiNapoli said. He didn’t have an estimate for how much the MTA is saving by the overnight closures, but said any savings are likely being offset by the costs of cleaning.

Motorists and mass transit riders in New York already facing fare and toll increases next year and in 2023 could face drastic service cuts if the federal government doesn’t help the Metropolitan Transportation Authority out of a gaping budget hole brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. NBC New York's Katherine Creag reports.
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