NYC Subways May Not Weather ‘Fiscal Tsunami,’ Official Warns

“If it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t ask anyone to go on the subway,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted on June 8, alongside this photo. (Image via Courthouse News)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Every week, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, New York City’s public transit system loses about two-thirds as much in revenue as it costs to operate. As its chairman put it Wednesday, the very survival of the Metropolitan Transportation Agency is in peril.

“I described the MTA financial situation as a four-alarm fire, but that frankly doesn’t do justice to the severity of the damage that the virus has inflicted,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye announced at a board meeting this morning. “We are in the midst of a once-in-a-hundred-years fiscal tsunami, which has left our infrastructure intact but demolished fully 40% of our revenues.”

The virus upended what Foye called historic progress, putting the agency in preservation mode.

“Survival means fighting hard to maintain and not slash current service levels and not lose the gains made in on-time performance before Covid-19,” Foye added. “In short, survival means the MTA being able to serve the pivotal role it must play in the regional, economic and social recovery from this terrible virus.”

Presenting the grim figures to the board, the MTA released its July financial plan for 2021 to 2024.

The document’s first full page of statistics includes the roughly $4 billion that Congress allocated for the agency under the Federal CARES Act, the coronavirus relief package passed by the House of Representatives. Foye emphasized that billions more are needed immediately and in the years to come.

“The U.S. Senate simply must stand up for mass transit and allocate another $3.9 billion to the MTA this year to replenish revenues that this year have evaporated as a result of the virus,” Foye continued. “It’s simply a fact that our organization’s very survival depends upon the willing on the Congress, the Senate, to act again and act quickly.”

Every week that the U.S. Congress waits, the MTA hemorrhages hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We’re facing staggering, historic shortfalls, with a projected aggregate $16 billion deficit in 2024,” Foye said. “The MTA is losing about $200 million a week in revenues from losses to fares, tolls, subsidies and increased Covid-related expenses.”

Contextualizing that figure, Foye added that the MTA spends roughly $300 a week merely to operate.

If Congress answered the MTA’s call, the agency funding would stay in balance the remainder of the fiscal year, but a $5.1 billion deficit would remain in 2021, forcing the New York public transportation to consider reducing service, slashing jobs, shelving infrastructure improvements and raising tolls.

Foye does not consider any of these measures sustainable. “We cannot cut our way out of this crisis,” he said.

After being the global epicenter of the pandemic, New York managed to control coronavirus infections through a combination of months-long lockdowns, mandatory mask wearing and a cautious approach to reopening businesses. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who boasted of the state’s rise from “worst to first,” has fought to keep that trend steady by recently revoking liquor licenses of businesses in Astoria, Queens, for noncompliance. He rode the subways last month, surgical mask over his face and physically distanced from riders, to increase New Yorkers’ trust in their public-transportation system.

Crediting that effort, Foye noted that the future still remains uncertain: “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York has bent the curve, but the future arc of the pandemic remains uncertain.”

Uncontrolled infections have spiraled in Florida, Texas and California, as the United States reported more than 1,000 deaths for the first this month on Tuesday. The northeastern United States now stands as the most controlled region.

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