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MTA asks for additional $3.9 billion from feds after putting ambitious capital plan on hold

A straphanger wipes his nose as a downtown 5 train pulls into the Brooklyn Borough Hall station. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

After getting just under $3.9 billion from the federal government in the CARES Act stimulus package the MTA is requesting another bailout of equal amount to get the agency through the year.

The additional $3.9 billion requested is for the 2020 operating budget alone.

Considering financial woes of the agency before the COVID-19 epidemic and the liquidity crisis brought on by the disease, MTA Chair Pat Foye said the $51 billion 2020-2024 capital program has been put on a temporary hold though contracts already underway will continue.

“The MTA’s finances were in a precarious place before the pandemic began and now that it’s here, the traditional levers that we would use in worst-case scenarios are not useful,” MTA CFO Robert Foran said. “We’re required to balance our budget, normally we would have three options to help do this: raising fares, cutting service or deferring the bond-funded portion of our capital program. None of these are now tenable choices.”

MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber expects the ridership to be slow to bounce back as an economic downturn is predicted to linger on after the crisis abates. Lieber said this is based off of what the MTA experienced during the recession when it was a matter of a couple of years before ridership recouped.

MTA Chair Pat Foye said $400 to $500 million is expected to be spent on sanitization efforts for the rest of the year, which has already cost the agency $300 million in unexpected expenses. After a ridership fall of over 90% across all agencies, the MTA cannot even depend on tolls for funding with 60% fewer crossing on bridges and tunnels which account for about $5 billion in revenue.

“This is not something we can wait for, we need immediate action,” Foye said. “We need congress to provide a distinct and dedicated funding stream to the MTA, the epicenter of the disaster.”

The death toll for MTA frontline workers has officially reached 68 in the past week and 4,400 are on quarantine, according to Foye.

Nick Sifuentes, Executive Director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, issued a statement that backed up the MTA’s request from the federal government. This followed a study released Wednesday from the TransitCenter that said the MTA should be getting $8 billion in support.

“The CARES Act was a good start, but New York needs a rescue package unique to the scale of the crisis here,” Sifuentes said. “The MTA carries 38 percent of all transit rides in the U.S., but its share of the CARES Act was nowhere near commensurate with its fraction of our nation’s public transit infrastructure. That’s why additional emergency funding must be flexible, immediate, and not tied to any existing federal formulas. There is no formula, no playbook, for this crisis. It’s critical that the federal response reflects that reality.”

According to the MTA, L train project is expected to finish as expected at the end of April.

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