The MTA is bleeding out — saving it should be all local
To return post-COVID to life as it once knew it, New York City will need its subways and buses. Yet state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli now warns of a possible collapse of MTA finances that could “mark the end of regional public transit as we know it.”
Unthinkable, but all too possible.
Officials need to move mountains, pronto, to save the system — which, says DiNapoli, is dealing with its “worst financial crisis in history.”
The details are spelled out in his frightening report last week: MTA ridership remains down dramatically, as much as 70 percent on the subways and even more on the LIRR and MetroNorth. The agency’s debt is skyrocketing. And forget help from the state or city, busy grappling with their own fiscal meltdowns.
DiNapoli warns of “unheard of service cuts” — as much as 40 percent for subways and buses and 50 percent for the commuter rail lines — unless officials find a way to plug enormous holes in the MTA budget sprung by COVID-driven revenue drops and bumped-up costs. Fare hikes, workforce cuts and disruption of maintenance and repair work are also likely.
Debt could spike to “suffocating levels that could take multiple generations to recover from” — with repayments (and rising interest costs) siphoning precious cash.
Just how deep is the abyss? DiNapoli cites gaps of $3.4 billion this year, $6.3 billion in 2021, $3.8 billion in 2022, $2.8 billion in 2023 and $3.1 billion in 2024 — more than $19 billion over five years.
That’s big money: Next year’s hole is more than half the agency’s projected revenue. Shortfalls thereafter are on the order of those during the Great Recession.
It’s a nightmare. The city, state, MTA brass, Washington and — yes — labor, too, can’t let mass transit in America’s most important city wither. Gotham’s economy won’t recover without adequate trains and buses, and its paralysis will drag down economic activity for the state and all of America, too.
So far, Congress hasn’t been able to work out a deal on a major new COVID rescue plan that would rush lifesaving funds to the MTA (it wants $12 billion total, $3.9 billion by year’s end). So the agency is set to lay off as many as 8,500 workers.
Yet it’s hard to see how mass transit can survive without aid from DC, even with layoffs: “Inaction by Congress will not only hurt our customers and employees but also the economic rebound of New York and the nation,” warns MTA boss Pat Foye.
Labor concessions, of course, could help, too — but union leaders would likely prefer to see staff axed (since those off the payroll don’t vote in union elections) than have workers make sacrifices (affecting those who still can vote).
Yet one way or another, those yawning gaps need to be closed — and in a way that protects riders. The alternative is just too painful to contemplate.
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