MTA, on the brink of another funding crisis, may soon consider raising rates to keep the system in place

During the pandemic, the MTA has been able to operate a fairly regular service, thanks to billions of dollars in federal relief money. With passenger numbers dwindling in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic, the federal government has appealed for funding to continue operating trains and buses. Over the course of two years, it ended up getting a total of $15 billion to keep the service running.

“existential question”

Last week, state comptroller Thomas Dinpoli put out his own report, coining the problem of low passenger numbers as a nationwide “existential question”: Should transport agencies lower service levels to cope with lower demand, or boost demand by improving service?

“Unless there is an additional influx of state, state, or federal aid, the Shipping Authority faces stark choices to fill its budget gaps that will affect passengers,” Dinapoli wrote. “The MTA needs to clarify what’s at stake and explain to the public what options it is considering to fill budget gaps and how it can adapt to persistently lower ridership levels and transform service to meet changes in demand.”

Since February, the agency’s financial plan has projected that spending and revenue will continue to falter due to disruptions caused by the pandemic, writing in its plan that “a large budget deficit looms beyond 2025 if measures to address the structural imbalance are insufficient. carried out.”

Transport and Transport Authority Chairman Jano Lieber has warned of the economic shortfall for months as well, as he primed the pump and suggested that lawmakers come up with a new revenue stream to fund the public transport authority to avoid a death spiral, in which service is cut to save money, causing passenger numbers to plummet. More because of poor service.

However, the MTA has pushed ahead with costly construction projects throughout the pandemic, trying to get as much work done on its historic $51.5 billion capital plan as possible. A new Long Island Railroad station is expected to open beneath Grand Central Station by the end of the year, moving ahead with the installation of modern signs on many subway lines.

Governor Cathy Hochhol and Lieber share a close relationship and often appear together at press conferences for the Penn Station redevelopment plan and tours of the Second Avenue subway tunnels, two major projects that the state and the MTA are coordinating for rapid action. They said they wanted to tap money from the federal infrastructure bill that could be used to fund these projects.

While the capital and operating budgets are separate, the lines are nearly blurred during the pandemic when the government was then. Andrew Cuomo proposed redirecting taxes for capital projects toward a dire operating budget. This happened before federal and state relief aid finally arrived. With congestion prices expected to roll out by the end of next year and generate $1 billion annually, there have been calls to cash in on this funding stream. But the MTA insisted, and the law says it is for capital improvement only.

Derailing the service

DiNapoli suggested that one way to avoid a funding shortfall is for the MTA to adjust the service where there is demand. He noted that the weekday passenger rate was hovering around 60% in most agencies, while the weekend passenger count was much stronger.

For example, on Saturday, July 16, the Long Island Railroad saw ridership levels as high as 90%, only to see ridership dip on Monday to 56% of pre-pandemic levels. DiNapoli is proposing to boost Saturday service as there is clearly high demand.

“The Comptroller’s report aligns with what the Public Transportation Authority has said since the pandemic began: mass transit is an essential service for New Yorkers, and the Public Transportation Authority has begun working with decision makers to develop a plan that ensures robust mass transit continues in the post-COVID era,” John wrote. McCarthy, MTA’s chief of foreign relations, said in a statement.

In an effort to bring back riders this year, the MTA introduced a price cap program with OMNY that offers subway and bus riders unlimited rides after 12 rides in one week. It also decided not to impose a fare increase as a way to encourage passengers to use mass transit.

But next year the agency will likely have to increase fees and wages to make up for this year’s losses. It may raise prices the following year as well. This week’s board meeting will clarify the passenger’s expectations and provide an update on how much money he needs to make up.

Advocates with the Riders Alliance have suggested that increasing the service will increase the number of passengers.

“Governor Hochhol should target government funding to run buses and trains at least every six minutes, all day, every day, to make public transportation more competitive with other modes of transportation,” Danny Pearlstein, director of policy and communications, wrote in a statement. “New York’s equitable recovery and resilience to climate change hinges on reviving our transportation system; merely replacing dwindling federal aid with other revenue is not enough.”

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