If the MTA fails to secure federal aid for $ 12 billion in aid by the end of the year, which seems unlikely given Republican control of the Senate, MTA leaders have said they have no choice but to adopt a budget. to make public transportation in New York unrecognizable to riders and probably unusable to much of the public that relies on it.
MTA President Pat Foy called the agency’s 2021 budget released on Wednesday “gloomy”. The chief financial officer who created it said it was “ugly”. Board members describe him as “brutal.”
“All the options we discussed today are bleak and have significant shortcomings and contain actions that no one in the MTA wants to pursue,”
The agency warned the board, lawmakers and the public back in July that if federal aid did not arrive by the end of the year, it would have to cut subway and bus services by 40 percent and bus travel by 50 percent and cut more than 9,000 workers.
On Wednesday, he published a plan to do just that. It included reduced service, which could mean a 15-minute waiting time for a train or bus and up to an hour or more on regular rail lines, with some lines simply not having trains at all.
“It’s hard not to feel that these cuts would be the beginning of the end for the MTA and for New York as we know it,” Nick Sifuentes, chief executive of the Tri-State Transport Campaign, wrote in a statement.
The proposed budget also has a $ 2.9 billion loan from the agency from a federal reserve program for municipalities without money. Despite low interest rates, it will still seat the agency with more debt payments in the coming years – debt service now accounts for 16% of the annual budget.
“No one likes that. Nobody likes the impact on the customer. No one likes the potential impact on employees. It’s just ugly and it’s something we have to consider if we’re going to survive, “Chief Financial Officer Bob Foran said on Wednesday.
The layoffs would hit subway and bus workers the hardest, with 8,238 layoffs, which MTA projects would save $ 1.2 billion a year. But after all that frontline workers experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic – 128 MTA employees died of coronavirus – their leader promised to fight any layoffs.
“There will be a backlash from the unions and it will be a collective struggle both on the railways and within the city, I just want to clarify that,” said John Samuelsen, president of Transit Workers Union Local 100. “If there are any expectations from anyone in this room, whether they are board members or MTA bosses, we will not open our contracts and finance this deficit reduction. It will never happen. “
In addition to cuts in service and labor costs, the MTA has published its preliminary plan for more revenue, namely through biennial tickets and fee increases. It includes increasing one-time MetroCards by $ 1 and charging $ 3 to replace a card, as well as possibly eliminating 7- and 30-day unlimited cards. He is also considering a dynamic pricing model for bridges and tunnels that would charge more during peak traffic and less during off-peak hours.
New York State Controller Thomas Di Napoli has warned that the region’s economic recovery could be hampered by the cuts. “The burden of closing this gap will fall on the regional economy, burdening drivers, toll payers, labor and taxpayers,” DiNapoli said in a statement.
The MTA also hired consulting firm McKinsey & Company to review the agency’s economic prospects. A full report is expected next week, but the MTA published a finding on Wednesday predicting that riding will not return fully to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 at “best” if we assume there is an effective vaccine and no revival of the coronavirus next year.
“We take the worst-case planning approach, but we leave room for the best if it happens,” Foy said.
The “best” would mean that Congress transfers $ 12 billion in federal relief, riding returns faster than expected, and that the federal government quickly clears the way to allow congestion prices to rise and run by 2022.
The MTA board is expected to vote on the budget presented on Wednesday, before the end of the year.