Congress Dithers on COVID-19 Relief Package, Putting MTA at Risk

In late June, we shared that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was seeking $3.9 billion in emergency aid from Congress, after receiving an initial $3.7 billion in emergency aid in March. Unfortunately, the Senate has continued to block further COVID-19 relief funding, and the initial round of aid for the MTA ran out in July. Since then, the MTA’s fiscal crisis has only worsened, for a number of reasons.

First, about 50% of the MTA’s annual revenue comes from fares paid to ride the subway, buses, and commuter rail, as well as tolls paid to cross MTA bridges and tunnels. While New York’s low COVID-19 infection rates over the summer mean that ridership has recovered from its spring nadir, there are still only about a quarter as many riders as there were at the pre-COVID peak, and that means a lot less revenue.

Second, the MTA receives dedicated tax revenue from a variety of sources in its service region. With New York experiencing a severe recession caused by the pandemic, those taxes are producing less revenue than they usually would.

Third, the MTA has incurred new costs in order to protect riders and employees from the virus. Trains are given a thorough and expensive cleaning every night, and buses stopped collecting fares until very recently in order to minimize contact between riders and drivers. Despite hopes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might defray some of these extraordinary costs, they recently eliminated funding for these types of disaster-related expenses.

On top of all these revenue losses, the City and State governments are dealing with fiscal crises of their own due to the pandemic-induced recession, and may not be able to provide as much help as they would if the MTA were the only public agency that was suffering.

Due to these revenue losses and a lack of federal action, the MTA’s operating deficit is forecast to reach at least $10 billion through the end of 2021 and $16.2 billion through the end of 2024. Unless Congress steps up with this funding soon, the MTA will be forced to make drastic service cuts, including the elimination of entire bus and rail lines and cutting service frequency in half on the rest of the lines. In the absence of a robust mass transit system, many more people in the Tri-State Area will use automobiles to get around, making our air quality worse, our children sicker, and drastically increasing the difficulty of achieving our climate goals.

That’s why NYLCV has joined with other environmental, transit, and consumer advocacy groups to ask Congress to include at least $10 billion for the MTA in its next COVID-19 relief bill. Please join us here.