State comptroller pleads MTA’s case

Cyril Josh Barker | 10/15/2020, midnight
New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is joining the chorus about the MTA being cash-strapped and in need of help ...
Thomas DiNapoli

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is joining the chorus about the MTA being cash-strapped and in need of help from the federal government to avoid lasting damage.

DiNapoli released his annual report on the MTA’s finances this week. The COVID-19 pandemic struck when the MTA was already having financial trouble. Last month, the MTA said the pandemic leading to a major decrease in ridership has left them in financial trouble. Plans are already underway to cut service by 40%, lay off employees and implement hikes to fares and tolls. Fares could increase by 4% in 2021 and 2023.

“The MTA’s financial condition is dire,” DiNapoli said. “With ridership down, debt burden rising and no additional help likely from New York State or New York City, the MTA desperately needs an influx of federal funds or unheard of service cuts and workforce reductions will happen. Failure to fund the MTA now could disrupt maintenance and repairs and increase the MTA’s debt to suffocating levels that could take multiple generations to recover from. More than a reliable subway or commuter train ride is at stake. Washington needs to step up to help the MTA if our regional economy is going to fully recover.”

The MTA projects ridership and revenue will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023. The MTA received $4 billion in federal assistance and is set to receive $3.9 billion in additional support this year. The MTA is asking for $12 billion from the federal government to balance its budget through 2021.

DiNapoli’s report says that the MTA may have to turn to even more borrowing, which he said should be a last resort. The state has given permission for the agency to issue $10 billion in debt to cover revenue shortfalls and pay for costs due to the pandemic. Borrowing the money needed would also result in increased fare for riders.

“The MTA simply cannot wait any longer for relief from Washington,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye. “New York’s economic future and the country’s relies on a strong MTA powering progress. If the Senate fails to step up and deliver $12 billion, it would be a devastating blow to mass transit as we know it. We need action now, and the more we can amplify this message, the better.”

Meanwhile, the MTA says it’s prepared for the influx of students using the subways and buses to go back to school. The agency added nearly 1,000 additional bus trips starting Oct. 1. This month, the MTA’s Mask Force has provided free masks to students. To date, more than 4 million free masks and tens of thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer have been made available to customers.

“Our subways are running at nearly 100% of capacity and we’ve made sure to increase the amount of bus trips throughout the boroughs to ensure students have a convenient and safe way to get to class,” said Sarah Feinberg, NYC Transit Interim President. “Students are a part of the fabric of this city and we welcome them back to a system that is cleaner than it has ever been.”