The pandemic also has wreaked havoc on the authority’s finances. The formerly unfathomable loss of fare, toll and tax revenue, combined with significant additional cleaning and security expenses, is decimating the agency’s budget.
Basically, the MTA is going broke to help save New York.
These emergency funds are an investment in the future health of the region and the millions of riders who rely on the very transit system that will ultimately allow us to get back in business and looking forward to a new normal.
While that new normal is a way off, the MTA must be there to support it. New York cannot come back if the MTA isn’t whole to serve it and if riders don’t have the confidence to return. The agency must start working now with public health specialists on metrics and milestones to assure all stakeholders that the system is safe to ride—and that 24-hour service can resume.
We know the MTA is already beginning to take steps based on lessons learned, including distance markings on subway cars and Plexiglass separators on buses, and is considering the viability of a reservation system and metering bus and subway loads. We anticipate there will need to be permanent increases in cleaning and disinfecting, which means improving processes and providing workers with the needed products, equipment and training. All of this will take a great deal of money—the kind that only the federal government can provide.
The pandemic has exacerbated the importance of improving the system as a whole. We know one thing for sure: Reducing crowding by running more trains, faster, will be essential to our recovery efforts.
The MTA’s capital program is the lever that makes that happen. It is more important than ever to invest in signal upgrades—including communication-based train control and ultrawide-band frequency—which will allow subways to safely run with only a minute or two between trains. We also need station improvements, track replacement, beefed-up power and new rolling stock to ensure speed, safety, reliability and accessibility for all.
Yet the MTA can’t begin those vital upgrades until there is federal funding certainty to cover the necessary costs. Those funds will allow the MTA to keep the network operating without having to dip into capital funds—to avoid unlocking the lockbox that keeps the funds separate.
Equally important to recovery, the breadth of construction projects will put people to work and pump money into the economy. The MTA’s five-year capital investment strategy could generate more than $75 billion of statewide economic activity and create nearly 350,000 jobs throughout the state. That’s a shot in the arm that could begin as soon as funding is available.
Moving the region’s key transit system forward will move the region as a whole forward. That requires planning and vision for what the future will hold but, most importantly, it requires funding. If New York doesn’t succeed—if transit doesn’t succeed—it will have a long-term negative impact on national Covid-19 recovery efforts.
We hope Congress is listening.