MTA urged to look beyond fares and tolls to keep subways and buses moving

the $4 billion the MTA landed from the feds finally signed relaunch of pandemic aid The package will spare passengers from massive service cuts and worker layoffs next year, though fares are expected to rise further in the spring.

But the lack of clear future funding and uncertainty about when — or if — ridership will return to pre-pandemic levels has some transit and union leaders questioning whether the MTA can continue to rely on fares and tolls for half of its $16.7 billion. operational budget.

Among the ideas to help make up the difference: a $3 plan surcharge on online deliveries. In addition to the so-called Amazon tax, some are considering raising the state gasoline tax and hiking tolls on drivers even higher than the increase of 4% every two years that has been in place since 2009.

“We still have some extraordinary issues ahead,” MTA board member Robert Linn told THE CITY.

The coronavirus pandemic, which caused a 90% drop in metro ridership last spring — has shown that the transit system is “too disaster-responsive,” John Samuelsen, international president of the Transit Workers Union and MTA board member, told THE CITY.

“This primary reliance on farebox as a source of revenue needs to end,” he said.

Huge budget gaps ahead

While bus ridership is down to about half of what it was a year ago, MTA figures show that the percentage of passengers using the subway is only about 30% of 2019 figures. The descent is steeper on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.

On December 22, the metro system recorded 1,759,576 trips, a drop of almost 63% compared to approximately 5.4 million trips taken on the same day in 2019.

Agency officials had warned for months of 40% service cuts on subways and buses without a federal bailout. The MTA had previously received $3.9 billion in federal aid, which ran out in Julybefore receiving the final push from Congress.

Commuters wait for a C train to come to a complete stop at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in Brooklyn, December 4, 2020.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

“This $4 billion is a welcome respite that will delay these devastating cuts, but it doesn’t take us back to where we were at the start of the year,” said Ben Fried of TransitCenter, a research and advocacy organization. “We have to think about how to get there.”

But getting there won’t be easy for the MTA, whose five-year capital plannow waitingcalled for major signal upgrades on six subway lines, elevator installations at more than 60 stations, and the purchase of 1,900 new subway cars.

MTA still faces $8 billion in deficits from 2022 to 2024, officials say. Meanwhile, the state is in a massive $8 billion hole. budget gap of its own accord, and Albany lawmakers should approve new taxes.

‘No fare hikes’

The Transit Workers Union and the MTA’s Standing Citizens Advisory Committee said the transit agency should reconsider its fare increase scheme in light of the pandemic.

“With the $4 billion stimulus package, we’re doubling down on our call for no rate increases,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens’ Advisory Committee. “This is a year like no other.”

An MTA spokesperson acknowledged that 2020 was “anything but standard.” The agency’s board of directors must vote on the proposed rate increases at its January board meeting.

The council will consider several optionsincluding the elimination of seven- and 30-day unlimited MetroCards.

“We recognize that our customers are facing unprecedented challenges and the MTA will take all of this, along with the thousands of public comments received after eight virtual hearings, into consideration when making its decision,” spokeswoman Abbey said. Collins.

MTA President Patrick Foye recently told Bloomberg TV the federal assistance is “incredibly important to the MTA” since the transit system is “essential” to the economic recovery of the city and region.

Samuelsen, whose union represents rank-and-file subway and bus workers, hailed the $4 billion relief package as “a huge win for [transit] workers.”

He warned the MTA could fall into a repetitive pattern of asking for money, citing a 1993 Bill Murray comedy to make his point.

“It’s going to become like the movie ‘Groundhog Day,'” Samuelsen said. “It will repeat itself over and over again if they don’t find new sources of income.”