The MTA Needs at Least $3.9 Billion in COVID-19 Relief

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is seeking a second federal support package of at least $3.9 billion after three months of coronavirus-related closures have devastated the agency’s finances. NYLCV strongly supports this request of Congress to support workers, small businesses, and the new green economy.

The MTA received an initial $3.7 billion in federal aid as part of the CARES Act relief package in March. Agency officials are saying that the MTA will exhaust those funds by the end of June. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, MTA ridership declined more than 90% on subways, 80% on buses, 95% on the Metro-North, and 90% on the LIRR. The MTA lost $486 million in transit fares in May alone, taking in 88% less than its projected revenue from before the pandemic. Fare and toll revenue pays for roughly half of the agency’s annual expenses. Compounding the almost complete collapse in fare revenue, the MTA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in new cleaning expenses to keep the transit system as safe as possible for essential workers.

In addition to providing an affordable and safe way to commute for many New Yorkers, the MTA is one of the most important government tools for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and air pollution in the New York metropolitan region. According to the MTA, the existence of mass transit in NYC directly avoids a net 17 million metric tons of GHG emissions per year, making the direct and indirect emissions impacts of the metropolitan area almost 30% lower than they otherwise would be. And looking ahead, expanded and improved New York public transportation systems are necessary for the state to reach its climate goal of reducing GHG emissions 85% by 2050.

Adequately funding the MTA would also act as a public health measure. New York’s extensive mass transit system reduces particulate matter emissions because fewer commuters drive to work than would do so without the MTA. This is of increasing importance because particulate matter is disproportionately emitted in environmental justice communities, and we know now that degraded local air quality is linked to adverse health impacts for COVID-19 patients.

While the CDC previously recommended that commuters avoid mass transit, local transit advocates and government officials worry about both the negative health and environmental impacts of “carmegeddon,” New York City’s impending gridlock problem. 45% of New York City residents own a car—if that percentage grows, or if existing car owners use their vehicles more frequently, extreme traffic and congestion would deteriorate air quality and compound economic and social issues by preventing employees from getting to work. Transit advocates fear that commuters could be at further risk of fare hikes if the MTA does not receive more federal funding. Tom Wright, chief executive officer of the Regional Plan Association, estimates that the MTA would have to raise fares from $2.75 to $9 per swipe to cover their daily operations. This would magnify the detrimental impacts of increased car usership for disadvantaged New Yorkers who might not be able to afford such a sudden and steep fare hike, and would constitute a significant increase in every commuter’s personal transportation budget.

Transit advocacy group Riders Alliance recently hosted a virtual town hall with Senator Chuck Schumer urging Congress to continue to protect New Yorkers while the city begins to recover from COVID-19. Senator Schumer pledged that Democrats would not pass a new coronavirus relief bill unless it includes $3.9 billion for the MTA. NYLCV also signed a letter of support for this second round of funding with Environmental Advocates of New York, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Fund. These organizations all strongly urge Congress to include the minimum $3.9 billion for the MTA in the next COVID-19 relief bill to avoid the devastating environmental and economic consequences of a severely underfunded public transportation system.