Transit advocates beg for mercy – and cash – to fix MTA finances and spare service cuts

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Photo by Mark Hallum

Panic has set in for transit advocates in New York City fearful that the MTA’s catastrophic cash crunch will lead to massive service cutbacks.

The advocates are now calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to divert unnecessary funding to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and impose a millionaire’s tax in light of the federal government’s reluctance to provide COVID-19 aid.

With U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand coming through with about $98 million for the MTA on Tuesday — a microscopic amount next to the $16 billion deficit they face — Riders Alliance was joined by Queens state Senator Jessica Ramos to call for the state pull out all the stops and demand more from New York’s wealthiest.

“I think anyone who has ever struggle paycheck-to-paycheck understands that when you have only a little bit of money, you have to put toward the things that are most important, right?” said Ramos. “So what we’re asking the governor to do this morning is just that… We need the governor to prioritize what really is important to New Yorkers, and right now it’s making sure that the MTA is funded to the best of our ability, that we tax billionaires if it’s necessary, and I believe that it is.”

While Ramos explained that this was the best course of action considering the Trump administration’s reluctance to provide relieve, indefinitely shelved by Senate Majority Leaders Mitch McConnell who refuses to put the HEROES Act to a floor vote, speakers on the Riders Alliance press conference call demanded that Cuomo abort the mission to employ 500 new cops.

Since April, when the MTA’s ridership plummeted by over 90%, the agency put a hiring freeze in place preventing them from advancing on the motion to hire more cops as a fare evasion prevention method, approved in the January board meeting. According to MTA officials, they have been bleeding about $700 million per month from a loss of fare and toll revenue since the pandemic began.

The $51 billion 2020-2024 capital plan which would transform the system into a modern transportation network has been set aside for better days, as per the June board meeting.

Gillibrand hopes that if McConnell does agree to a second stimulus, that it will hold the additional $3.9 billion the MTA has been asking for as well as $3 billion for Port Authority.

“This massive public transit network comprises our country’s largest bus fleet, and includes more subway and commuter rail cars than all other U.S. transit systems combined in one of the largest economic engines of America,” Gillibrand said in a letter to McConnell. “This unprecedented public health crisis has put the MTA’s budget in a dire situation with the Authority’s officials projecting a $10.3 billion loss through 2021. This deficit, if left unchecked, will have devastating consequences on the lives of millions of New Yorkers who rely on the MTA’s vital transit services to commute to and from home for work.”

Wednesday, the MTA will hold its July board meeting where they are expected to outline service cuts due to lack of funding as well as more details on the deficit that has leaped by $6 billion in the past month.