Nightmare transit scenario averted — but only for now
Feared “doomsday cuts” were averted by the MTA in its budget meeting on Wednesday. But if $4.5 million in federal aid doesn’t come through next year, the transit agency says it will have to cut service by a devastating 40 percent, making wait times at subway stations and bus stops even longer, especially during the “off hours.”
Under this worst-case scenario, fares would also go up, and service on the Long Island Railroad, a branch of which terminates at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal, would be cut by a shocking 50 percent, according to an MTA statement.
For LIRR riders, this could mean a wait of 20 minutes between trains even during the rush hour. While the MTA didn’t give figures for wait time on the subways, it likely would mean that the subways would have to go back to the type of draconian schedules it ran during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when trains only came every 20 minutes or so during the day and sometimes every 30 minutes at night.
In addition, if worse comes to worse, the MTA says it would need to cut nearly 2,400 positions in the subways, nearly 5,900 positions in its bus operations, and 900 positions at MetroNorth and the Long Island Rail Road.
This massive staff reduction, the MTA reiterated, would “result in reduced train frequency, suspension of service on some lines at certain times of day, and/or major weekend changes.”
The only silver lining would be that the reduction in service would generate savings in maintenance, cleaning and inspections, since fewer train cars would be in service.
One of the main factors, if not the major factor, behind this situation is the drastic drop in transit ridership due to the coronavirus. In April, the Eagle reported that subway ridership was down 92 percent, as people were encouraged to stay home.
Since then, it has rebounded somewhat, but nowhere near pre-COVID levels, as many workers continue to stay home and work from there. For example, according to the MTA’s statistics, on Monday, Dec. 14, ridership was down 72 percent from Dec. 14, 2019, just a year beforehand. On Sunday, Dec. 13, ridership was down 67.7 percent from Dec. 13, 2019.
“We are closely monitoring events in Washington and will revise the budget and prepare necessary actions, depending on what our federal leaders deliver,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye. “Congress should stay in session until passing a COVID relief bill that includes funding for public transportation. The MTA continues to face a once-in-100-year fiscal tsunami and this is without a doubt one of the most difficult budgets in agency history, with devastating deficits projected.”
Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance, a transit riders’ advocacy organization, commented, “Even assuming $4.5 billion in federal aid, the MTA remains billions in the red. Governor Cuomo runs our transit system, and needs a Plan B for frequent, reliable, and safe subway and bus service for years to come.
“Hiking fares with offices closed, ridership low, and subways shut overnight unfairly asks essential workers and low-income riders to pay more for less. Governor Cuomo must find new, progressive funding sources rather than balance his budget on riders’ backs,” he said.
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