Thursday, March 19, 2020

MTA Suffers Low Ridership During COVID-19 Requesting $4B In Federal Funds + MTA Employees Infected With The Coronavirus


New York City’s public transportation system, the largest in North America, is seeking a $4 billion federal bailout as the coronavirus pandemic has triggered an extraordinary free fall in ridership and left transit officials facing what is likely to be the worst economic crisis in decades. In a letter on Tuesday to New York’s Congressional delegation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — which runs the subway, buses and two commuter rails — said ridership had plunged 60 percent on the subway and 49 percent on buses on Monday compared with the same day last year.

Similar steep drops have taken place on other parts of the system: 90 percent on Metro-North Railroad, which serves communities north of New York City; and 67 percent on the Long Island Rail Road during the Tuesday morning rush hour compared to the same day last year. The plea from the public transit system, which is the lifeblood for the region’s economy, could forecast a coming crisis for public transportation agencies nationwide, many of which are also reeling from plummeting ridership and crippling finances just a few weeks into the outbreak in the United States. “The stark reality is that as more people stay home following the advice of medical experts, the M.T.A. is now facing financial calamity,” Patrick J. Foye, chairman of the transit authority, said in the letter.
The authority projects revenue losses of roughly $3.7 billion if ridership trends continue for the next several months, and expects coronavirus-specific expenses, like disinfecting subway cars and stations, to reach around $300 million. “The M.T.A. has already committed to finding $2.8 billion in savings over the next several years,” Mr. Foye said. “No agency of our size can find additional billions in savings equivalent to the damages we have and will sustain as a result of this pandemic.” Responding to the letter Tuesday evening, congressional leaders said they recognized how crucial public transit is to New York and were working to secure federal relief for the agency.

“New York’s subways, trains, and buses are our very lifeblood,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York and the Senate minority leader. “Senate Democrats are leading the charge to include substantial support for the whole system in any package Congress will next consider to keep our vital public institutions stable and operating.”

State and city officials have said they are not planning to reduce service on the region’s vast transit system, which typically serves around eight million passengers every weekday. They have emphasized that it is important to keep the system operating so health care workers can get to work. But the M.T.A. is particularly vulnerable to the sudden and precipitous economic downturn since it relies on a mix of funding from federal, state and city government all of which are grappling with their own challenges to operate and maintain its system.

“They are a barometer of the regional economy, a much more immediate barometer for things to come,” said Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research group. Revenues from fares and tolls, which contribute around half of the M.T.A.’s operating budget, and dedicated taxes, which provide another third of that budget, are already taking a hit as ridership falls and the pandemic sets off sweeping layoffs and business failures across the city. Officials have urged those who can to avoid subways and buses and enacted sweeping regulations, like closing schools, Broadway theaters, museums, movie houses, bars and allowing restaurants to remain open only for takeout and deliveries, that have all but shut down New York. The draconian measures are meant to curb the spread of the virus in New York City, where the number of confirmed cases climbed to over 1,000 on Tuesday.

Still, the dual need to keep riders away from public transportation to protect the public health, while also keeping the system running to ensure essential workers can get to work has thrust transit agencies like the M.T.A. into a precarious position. “They are performing a social good, but that costs them a lot of money,” Ms. Gelinas said. “They are in a very unique situation in that they cannot and should not cut back in service in response to the shock, so they are stuck with a huge financial burden.”

While it is still too early to say what the long term consequences might be, past financial crises have resulted in significant service cuts and fare hikes. After the 2008 financial crisis, M.T.A. officials slashed bus service, eliminated two subway lines and imposed a 23 percent increase in fares and tolls on bridges and tunnels. In the 1970s, a severe financial slump that brought the city to the brink of bankruptcy led the authority to close two subway lines in Manhattan and the Bronx and reduce service across four lines in Brooklyn and Queens. Last week, M.T.A. officials said they would only consider cutting service if health officials advised it or ridership continued to drop.

A total of 23 MTA employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, the agency announced Thursday. The batch of positive tests include 19 employees of New York City Transit, which runs the city’s buses and subways, and four Long Island Rail Road workers. Agency Chairman Pat Foye said all 23 employees “are in quarantine or receiving appropriate care.” “As we have said, this is not unexpected as testing continues to ramp up, which will help contain the spread of the virus,” Foye said in a statement. “The MTA is working closely with the state Department of Health to identify any colleagues who come in contact with employees who are confirmed, send them home to self-quarantine, provide access to necessary testing and immediately and aggressively disinfect the workplace,” he said.

The agency did not provide any further details on the coronavirus patients. Foye and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have insisted transit must remain open through the coronavirus crisis to transport medical personnel and other essential workers to and from work. The MTA has said it is cleaning trains and buses every 72 hours and commonly-touched station surfaces twice daily.
Despite that, transit workers and riders alike have expressed fears about catching the virus in MTA facilities. Transport Workers Union Local 100, which said its members account for 12 of the New York City Transit cases, has called on the MTA to provide COVID-19 tests for any workers that show symptoms or come into contact with those who do. “What TWU Local 100 members are doing is nothing short of heroic,” union president Tony Utano said in a statement. “There is a lot of concern and even fear out there but they are doing their jobs.”

Overall, the MTA should just suspend service. People getting infected with the coronavirus and trains/buses running on empty with less than 10 passengers. Also, three more MTA employees in the Jamaica Bus Depot out in Queens has tested positive for the COVID-19 aka Coronavirus. Hope that everything gets under control and we can return to our normal lives.

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