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Passage of Biden’s Rescue Plan brings emotional relief for transit agencies, advocates

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The future of public transportation across the New York City region is looking less dire after the Senate passed the American Rescue Plan on Saturday to deliver up to $20 billion in relief for public transit agencies throughout the country.

Up to $7 billion could go to the MTA, according to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer.

It is possible that none need it more than the Metropolitan Transportation Authority which spent the majority of the COVID-19 pandemic, now a year in progression, lobbying the federal government under both the Biden and Trump administrations to prop up their dwindling financial situation.

At the most critical point over the summer, the MTA projected a $16 billion deficit from COVID-19’s financial impact on fare, toll and tax revenue to the state agency.

“Critically, it will also further offset COVID’s impact and help protect against devastating service cuts and layoffs in the years ahead where we still face deficits,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said. “We have said all along that this is a national crisis that requires a national solution. A strong MTA is essential to New York and the nation’s rebound, and we’re eager to help get the economy back on track and carry the region forward as we have all along.”

The Riders Alliance, in light of the news of more stimulus funding, urged embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo and the MTA to take service changes and fare increases into consideration due to financial instability off the table entirely.

“With close to $15 billion in federal aid, the governor must stop service cuts, cancel regressive fare increases, and invest in the MTA rather than raid transit funds to balance the state budget. Needless to say, riders will keep holding our elected leaders at every level accountable for frequent, reliable, and accessible public transit,” Riders Alliance Executive Director Betsy Plum said. “In the past year, the Riders Alliance joined together with dozens of allies nationwide to win $69 billion in relief for buses and trains from Boston to Brooklyn to Berkeley. This progress is just the start. While today’s aid package does so much to restore the pre-COVID MTA’s fiscal condition, riders remain committed to winning the transit system New York needs and deserves.”

While the agency had decided against imposing a 4% fare increase in January, at the February board meeting members did vote to adopt a 7% increase on bridge and tunnel tolls.

“The American Rescue Plan takes a tremendous step forward to defeat the virus and provide relief to families and small businesses in need,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “It honors our heroes – our health care workers, food, sanitation and transportation workers, and teachers – who are on the frontlines on the state and local level. It crushes the virus with the equitable and immediate distribution of the vaccine. And it puts our children safely back in school and puts workers back on the job. Overall, this coronavirus-centric legislation puts nearly a trillion dollars in the pockets of America’s families.”

In broad strokes, the American Rescue Plan creates the funding needed for a mass vaccination effort across the states and gives about 85% of American families a $1,400 check.

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Mark Hallum
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Mark Hallum

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