/MTA Prepares Budget Cuts That Would Make Transit System “Unrecognizable” – Gothamist

MTA Prepares Budget Cuts That Would Make Transit System “Unrecognizable” – Gothamist

If the MTA fails to secure $12 billion in federal relief aid by the end of the year, which appears unlikely given Republican control of the Senate, MTA leaders said they had no choice but to pass a budget which would make public transportation in New York City unrecognizable to riders, and likely unusable for a large swath of the public that relies on it.

MTA Chairman Pat Foye called the agency’s 2021 budget, released on Wednesday, “grim.” The Chief Financial Officer, who created it, said it was “ugly.” Board members referred to it as “brutal.”

“All of the options we discussed today are grim and have significant downsides and contain actions that no one at the MTA wants to pursue,” Foye said at Wednesday’s MTA board meeting.

The agency has been warning the board, lawmakers, and the public as far back as July that if federal relief aid does not come by the end of the year, it would have to reduce subway and bus service by 40 percent, commuter rail service by 50 percent and lay off more than 9,000 workers.

On Wednesday it released a plan to do just that. It included reduced service that could mean 15-minute wait times for a train or bus, and up to an hour or longer on commuter rail lines, with some lines just not having any trains at all.

“It’s hard not to feel like these cuts would be the beginning of the end for the MTA, and for New York as we know it,” Nick Sifuentes, Executive Director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, wrote in a statement.

The proposed budget also has the agency borrowing $2.9 billion from a federal reserve program for cash-strapped municipalities. Despite the low interest rates, it would still saddle the agency with more debt payments in the coming years — debt service already accounts for 16% of the annual budget.

“Nobody likes this. Nobody likes the impact on the customer. Nobody likes the potential impact on the employees. This is just ugly, and this is something that we must consider if we’re going to survive,” Chief Financial Officer Bob Foran said Wednesday.

Layoffs would affect subway and bus workers the most, with 8,238 layoffs that MTA projects would save $1.2 billion annually. But after all that front-line transit workers have endured during the COVID-19 pandemic — 128 MTA employees have died from coronavirus — their union leader vowed to fight any layoffs.

“There will be a fightback from the unions, and it will be a collective fightback both on the railroads and within the city, I just want to make that clear,” said John Samuelsen, president of Transit Workers Union Local 100. “If there’s any expectation from anybody in this room, whether they be board members or whether it be the bosses at the MTA, we’re not going to open up our contracts and bankroll this deficit reduction. It’s not going to happen.”

In addition to cuts to service and labor costs, the MTA released its preliminary plan for bringing in more revenue, namely through bi-annual fare and toll hikes. It includes increasing single ride MetroCards by $1 and charging $3 to replace a card, as well as possibly eliminating the 7 and 30 day unlimited cards. It’s also considering a dynamic-pricing model for bridges and tunnels that would charge more during peak-traffic times and less during off-peak hours.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warned the region’s economic recovery could be hampered by these cuts. “The weight of closing that gap will fall on the regional economy, burdening riders, toll payers, the workforce and taxpayers,” DiNapoli wrote in a statement.

The MTA has also hired the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to review the economic outlook for the agency. A full report is expected next week, but the MTA released one finding Wednesday, which projects ridership won’t fully return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 in the “best case scenario,” assuming there’s an effective vaccine and no resurgence of coronavirus next year.

“We are taking the approach of planning for the worst, but leaving room to adjust for the best, should that happen,” Foye said.

The “best” would mean Congress passes $12 billion in federal relief, ridership returns faster than expected, and that the federal government quickly clears the way to allow congestion pricing to be up and running by 2022.

The MTA board is expected to vote on the budget presented Wednesday before the end of the year.

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