MTA, regional agencies join forces on mask enforcement for commuters

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Whether riding the PATH, New Jersey Transit or MTA transit systems, universal mask compliance will be enforced on the regional level despite only 10 New Yorkers getting fined $50 since the Mask Force was launched in June.

Amtrak, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority will also be joining the mast force, announced Tuesday near the Port Authority Trans-Hudson turnstiles of the Oculus. What started as a conversation about safety, turned into questions into the uncertain future of these beleaguered agencies with the ongoing pandemic.

“Whichever system you’re riding, it doesn’t matter, please wear the mask.” Kevin Corbett, president of NJ Transit, said. “At New Jersey Transit we’ve taken extraordinary measures, we sanitize all vehicles every day… but it really is a shared responsibility [to stop the spread].”

According to Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Rick Cotton, airport traffic being down 70% and commuters avoiding the PATH by up to 75% has left the agency looking at a deficit of $3 billion. Much like the MTA’s request for $12 billion to fund operations through the end of 2021 from the federal government, PANYNJ has also been left without answers.

“It means we will be cutting back at the exact time that the region needs desperately an economic recovery; We want to contribute to that economic recovery,” Cotton said. “The stalemate that has existed up to now within the Congress and the administration for another stimulus bill is just a tragedy for the nation, it’s a tragedy for the region.”

Like MTA Chairman Pat Foye, the little twinkle of hope expressed by Cotton was the possibility of President-elect Joe Biden brokering a deal with the U.S. Senate, still under the control of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for the funding to avoid cuts to services and infrastructure projects.

Corbett seemed to be the only transit leader speaking at the event whose agency is relatively more comfortable in their fiscal prospects. New Jersey Transit still has enough of the CARES Act funding delivered in April to make it through May or June without impacts, but likened the situation of other agencies hitting the brink as a group of canoes, going over the edge of the “waterfall” one after another.

New Jersey Transit’s intra-state bus network is at 75% of pre-pandemic ridership numbers, he said, but other modes in their system are operating at about 25% capacity. Fare hikes, under the authority of Governor Phil Murphy to approve, are not currently on the table for New Jersey Transit.

The MTA is currently planning their operational funding for 2021, which will be discussed on Wednesday during the monthly board meeting and could entail a $1 fare hike as well as a 40% cut in service. A decision may not be made until the December meeting.