Isaac Scher


Beset by low ridership since the coronavirus pandemic began, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is facing financial ruin, Chairman Pat Foye said, imploring the federal government to provide $10 billion in aid through 2021. 

“I described the MTA financial situation as a four-alarm fire,” Foye said during an MTA board meeting Wednesday. “But that, frankly, doesn’t do justice to the severity of the damage the virus has inflicted. We are in the midst of a once-in-a-100-years fiscal tsunami.” 

Ridership has plummeted over the last four months: July subway ridership is down nearly 80% relative to the same period last year, agency data shows, and bus ridership now stands at nearly half what it was in July 2019. 

The steep decline in public-transportation use is a gift to public health. But it has precipitated an historic financial crisis. 

“The MTA is losing about $200 million a week in revenues from losses and fares toll subsidies and also increased COVID-related expenses,” Foye said, estimating that the agency needs $3.9 billion in federal aid this year alone. Next year it will need $6.1 billion.  

Without swift government intervention, the MTA will be forced to reduce ridership services. “Everything is on the table,” he said, declining to specify what reductions the agency would consider. The agency has frozen NYPD hirings after expecting to add 500 officers to the subways, a measure introduced in late 2019, at the cost of $249 million, to stem $200 million in fare evasions. Foye did not say whether that plan would move forward in light of the MTA’s fiscal crisis.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats are dueling over a forthcoming stimulus package. In a draft bill conceived by Senate Republicans and the White House this week, state and local governments would receive exactly $0. At $1 trillion, that bill is less than a third of House Democrats’ proposed legislation, the Heroes Act, which would direct $25 billion to transit agencies across the country.

But the Heroes Act, which has only passed in the House, would not save the MTA, according to analysis by TransitCenter. “It would still address less than a year’s worth of the expected deficit in New York and Seattle — and possibly Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Boston,” the advocacy organization found

The MTA was warning of a massive budget shortfall more than a week before the Heroes Act was introduced. In early May, the MTA’s expected deficit stood at $8.5 billion, Bloomberg News reported

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Photo by Femke Ongena on Unsplash.