Without Federal Aid, NY State Comptroller Predicts "End Of Public Transit As We Have Known It"

Stephen Nessen

Gothamist

Oct 13, 2020

The state’s fiscal watchdog is in agreement with the MTA that without $12 billion in federal relief aid, New York’s public transit system will be devastated. State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli sounded the alarm on Tuesday, following the release of a bleak report on the MTA’s finances.

“It would mark the end of regional public transit as we have known it,” DiNapoli warned reporters over a conference call.

The MTA exhausted its last $4 billion in federal relief aid in July, and is asking for $12 billion to cover farebox and tax revenue losses through 2021. After the pandemic shut the city down in March, ridership fell to below 90 percent on subways and buses, and even lower on the commuter rails. According to the report, it’s not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.

DiNapoli’s report comes as the agency is preparing to present next year’s budget at a November board meeting. The budget is expected to include service cuts of up to 50 percent on commuter rails, and 40 percent on subways and buses, with thousands of layoffs, as well as fare hikes.

According to the MTA, a severe reduction in services is the only way to keep public transit running in some form.

"The comptroller's report authoritatively confirms that New York riders face grave danger from federal austerity. Congress must stop doomsday MTA cuts,” Danny Pearlstein, Policy and Communications Director with Riders Alliance said. "Our city and state cannot recover from COVID or economic collapse without a strong public transit system.”

Currently, ridership on subways is still down between 63 to 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while buses are down about 50 percent. Long Island Railroad is still down 72 percent of what it was before COVID-19 and Metro-North is seeing 75 to 78 percent fewer riders, according to the latest ridership numbers released last week.

“The Comptroller's report is further independent validation that the MTA faces fiscal calamity for years to come if the federal government does not step up to provide the necessary $12 billion in COVID-19 relief funding we've been aggressively seeking,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye wrote in a statement. “Massive service and employee cuts, fare hikes, a gutting of our historic capital plan, and more unsustainable debt, which will only put future pressure on the fare box, are all on the table without help from Washington.”

The losses are not just from a drop in ridership.

The state comptroller expects MTA revenue from dedicated taxes and subsidies will be $5.5 billion lower than expected through the end of 2023.

His office also estimated the extra cleaning costs associated with the coronavirus and overnight shutdowns will reach an extra $1 billion by the end of the year.

The MTA Board is currently considering whether to borrow $2.9 billion from the federal reserve’s Municipal Liquidity Fund program, which would add to the agency’s debt, but could help stave off cuts for a short time until there’s help from Washington. DiNapoli agreed it’s a good plan, but he called it just a “band-aid.”

DiNapoli, like the MTA, Cuomo and de Blasio, believe the only way to get through the financial crisis is for lawmakers to pass a federal relief bill in Washington.