Saying it’s facing a “financial calamity,” the MTA is asking for a federal bailout of $4 billion over an expected loss of revenue due to the coronavirus.
With ridership on subways down 60 percent, buses down 49 percent, Metro-North down 90 percent, Long Island Railroad down 67 percent, the MTA predicts a farebox loss of $4 billion by the end of 2020. This, in addition to the extensive cleaning costs and an expected loss of New York State taxes revenue close to $6 billion.
Even before the coronavirus disruption, the MTA was on precarious financial footing, and undertaking a dramatic transformation to cut jobs and streamline its operation.
“Time and again, New Yorkers have supported disaster relief for other states and Puerto Rico when they were devastated by natural disasters and other Acts of God. Now we are asking Congress to step up again and deliver for the system that is the lifeblood of New York City and the engine of the region’s economic future,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye wrote in a letter sent to New York State’s congressional delegation on Tuesday.
“New York’s subways, trains, and busses are our very lifeblood and the system is suffering brutal rider drop off due to the crisis. Senate Democrats are leading the charge to include substantial support for the whole system in any package Congress will next consider to keep our vital public institutions stable and operating,” Senator Chuck Schumer wrote in a statement to WNYC/Gothamist.
The response from Congressman Hakeem Jeffries was unequivocal.
"As the MTA confronts financial difficulties in the wake of a dramatic ridership decline, the congressional delegation will work together to help provide the federal support necessary to keep our mass transit system stable," Jeffries said.
A coalition of eight regional transit advocates, which often spars with the MTA over spending issues, agreed with the MTA on the need for a bailout and penned its own letter to Senate and Congressional officials, pointing out if the airlines get funding, so should the region’s mass transit system.
“We recognize that there will be many requests for federal aid, but we emphasize that without a fully functioning MTA, there will be no recovery in the New York City region or for New York State. Public transit is the lifeblood of our City; it powers the economy and enables the region's growth and success. Affordable, reliable transit is also essential to lifting up the most vulnerable New Yorkers who use it to access jobs, education, and other opportunities,” the letter from transit advocates noted.
“Strong public transit is also essential to the nation's efforts to address climate change, and we cannot afford to see it decline when we must be encouraging mass transit ridership. At a time that the nation's airlines are asking for a $50 billion bailout, the nation's largest public transit system must be protected and should be treated with equal if not greater urgency.”
They’re also calling on federal officials to move congestion pricing forward.
In a letter to investors this week, the MTA noted it also has $3.8 billion it could use this week, but drawing on that will result in a funding gap for operating and capital expenses.
The Manhattan Institute's Nicole Gelinas said a $4 billion bailout was great but the MTA likely would need more than that.
“What will ridership and tax revenues look like in the summer? Will we have our tourists back, riding subways and buses? How many people will be out of work, and thus not commuting? It is wise to ask for $4 billion now because who knows if we'll get another chance from Congress, once this has all receded, but that may not even be enough,” she said.
While at least one worker has been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, and ridership was very low, the MTA continues to run at full-service capacity.
"I would expect that even if there was an order to stay in place, the MTA will be operating to take first responders, firefighters, nurses, doctors, utility workers, transit workers, to and from their work," MTA Chairman Pat Foye said, speaking on WCBS.
But some workers questioned this. An organizer for MTA workers said there was not a lot of trust in senior management, and workers were not getting straight answers.
“Us transit workers want the MTA to be honest with us as to what’s really going on at our agency,” said Tramell Thompson, an MTA conductor and founder of Progressive Action, a popular Facebook group for MTA workers. “Random members are being told to go home and quarantine with no explanation as to why or whom they may have come in contact with. The MTA is keeping us in the dark with everything.”