Funding mass transit during this unprecedented public health crisis is not a red or blue issue – it is black and white. The two of us are not always on the same side of many issues, but this is a no-brainer.
A strong public transportation system benefits the economies of New York and the nation as a whole, full stop. We cannot waste time with political theater when the future of this critical service – and the recovery of New York and the nation’s economy – hangs in the balance.
New York is the epicenter of the COVID crisis, with 30 percent of the cases and deaths. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has been particularly devastated by the pandemic. Plummeting ridership, massive revenue losses, and the certain evaporation of state and local taxes that support the agency’s budget have created a financial catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude. We in Congress already delivered $3.8 billion for the MTA. It was a good first step, but more needs to be done to shore up the circulatory system that powers New York. The MTA needs an additional $3.9 billion in emergency funding now while it continues to move the other essential workers like doctors, nurses, first responders, and grocery workers on the frontlines of this pandemic saving lives.
A strong MTA will be critical to the resurgence of New York and the country’s economy when our focus shifts to reopening. As the MTA’s service area makes up nearly 10 percent of the national GDP, it is crucial to American economy for the system to be ready and functional to help bring the country back.
This is not political pork, everyone in Congress should take this seriously. New York already provides $29 billion more on average per year in taxes to the federal government than it takes in. It is the largest donor state in the nation.
The system carries more than 8 million people daily, connecting residents with employment and educational opportunities across New York City, Long Island, Westchester and Connecticut that help drive the downstate region. Fifty percent of Long Island Rail Road customers take the train to Penn Station and get on the subway to commute to work. Ensuring the MTA’s vitality is the best way to jumpstart the New York economy to lead the nation’s economic recovery.
Right now, the agency is in free fall. Ridership has nosedived, declining by more than 90 percent on subways, buses, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, with crossings at bridges and tunnels falling by more than 60 percent. These revenues normally make up half of the MTA’s annual budget. It’s not hyperbole to say that MTA’s survival depends on our colleagues in Congress delivering significant additional federal assistance in the next federal funding package.
Projections of the full impact of the pandemic to the MTA are estimated to be between $7 and $8.5 billion this year alone. The estimated impact includes decline in ridership, tax revenues, and the hundreds of millions in ever increasing expenses the MTA is incurring to keep the system safe for essential personnel.
The state and city also do not have the money to help as their budgets have also been decimated by the COVID-19 crisis. Congress must deliver for them, too. The MTA has taken its own actions, to try and stay afloat, including reducing service, drawing down on a $1 billion line of credit to improve its liquidity, and pausing much of its historic 2020-24 capital plan.
But the reality is the MTA cannot they can cut their way out of this crisis. Raising fares would accomplish nothing with ridership so low and is unfair to the customers that remain. Cutting service is another non-starter, since ensuring access to public transportation is more vital than ever. There is no question that we at the federal level need to step in and provide new funding.
Brave MTA workers have been the heroes moving the heroes of this pandemic, at great cost to their own health. Eighty-three MTA employees have tragically died related to COVID-19. More than 2,000 have tested positive, with thousands more on home quarantine.
It would be inexcusable for us to turn our back on them now. The bottom line is that ensuring a thriving mass transit system is not a Democratic or a Republican issue. It should not be seen as political currency. For the good of the entire country, we need to act to help the MTA—and we need to act now.
By Reps. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY)
Peter King (R-NY)