MTA Floats Possibility Of Fare Hikes, Service Cuts Amid Budget Crisis

WCBS 880 Newsroom
July 22, 2020 - 7:25 pm

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    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The MTA painting a bleak financial picture on Wednesday as it looks to fill a gaping budget hole created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    With ridership down dramatically, the agency is hoping the federal government will step in to provide more emergency funding. Under the CARES Act, the MTA received $3.9 billion in funding, but was set to use up the resources by the end of July. 

    On Wednesday, the MTA Board met to give a preliminary look at its budgeting for the next few years amid the fallout from the pandemic. Officials said even if the federal government stepped in to help this summer, the authority still faces over a $5 billion deficit for next year.

    Currently, the MTA is losing around $200 million per week as New Yorkers remain at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    “We are in the midst of a once-in-a-hundred-years fiscal tsunami,’ MTA Chairman and CEO Pat Foye said. “We're facing staggering, historic shortfalls with a projected aggregate $16 billion through 2024.”

    As it looks to fill the budget gap, New Yorkers should expect to see fare and toll increases, service cuts and possibly even a state gas tax. It’s possible the authority may even look at wage freezes.

    Subway ridership, which normally surpasses 5 million daily, dropped by more than 90% at the height of the pandemic in the spring. Bus ridership also fell sharply, as did vehicle traffic at MTA-operated toll bridges and tunnels.

    The MTA is also spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clean and disinfect all subway cars and stations to combat the virus's spread, and took the unprecedented step of shutting down overnight service to help accomplish that goal.

    About 2 million riders used subways and buses on Monday, Foye said, continuing a gradual return by commuters but still far below normal numbers.

    The MTA is seeking about $4 billion more from the federal government and has already identified more than $1 billion in savings for next year, Foye said. The initial $3.9 billion in federal aid will run out this month, he said, and he added that even if the government provides what the MTA is asking for, "we cannot cut our way out of this crisis.”

    Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran said higher fare hikes than those already envisioned in the current capital plan are a possibility. The last fare increases went into effect in 2019.

    Board member Lawrence Schwartz called fare hikes “not a solution — New Yorkers are already burdened by high fares.”

    Board member David Mack raised the possibility of implementing a state gas tax similar to one passed in New Jersey in 2016 that funds transportation projects.

    Board member Andrew Albert also suggested a gas tax as part of a broader goal of lessening reliance on the federal government.

    “We’re relying on people who don’t understand the New York lifestyle, for our lifestyle,” he said.

    (© 2020 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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