Next stop? New York’s MTA warns of 40% service cut, 9,300 layoffs

The cuts could cause major disruptions for commuters and drag down the city’s economic recovery.

For New York and its suburbs, the blow seems unthinkable: 40% to 50% service reductions for the city’s subways, buses and surrounding commuter train lines.

Yet as the economic fallout from the coronavirus deepens and no federal aid in sight, the nation’s largest mass-transit system says it has no choice. On Wednesday, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it will have to slash subways and buses by 40% and chop commuter rail service by half if aid doesn’t come from Washington. Fares and tolls will increase and roughly 9,300 jobs will also be eliminated.

For everyday New Yorkers, who rely on mass transit as a way of life, the consequences are hard to overstate. The scale of the cuts threatens major disruptions for commuters and could exert a drag on the city’s economic recovery even after the pandemic recedes. Riders would pay higher fares while waiting 15 minutes on weekends for subways, see nearly a fourth of bus routes reduced and have peak-time commuter rail service cut to almost 30 minutes or even hourly.

“This was undoubtedly one of the most difficult budgets the MTA has ever had to develop in one of the most unusual and uncertain times,” Pat Foye, MTA’s chief executive officer, said during the meeting.

The potential changes would begin as early as May and affect a network that serves a population of 15 million, accounting for one-third of mass-transit users in the U.S. Eliminating 9,367 workers would cut the MTA’s workforce by about 13%.

The doomsday scenario comes as ridership forecasts have weakened. The MTA now estimates ridership won’t reach 80% of pre-pandemic levels until 2024 in a best-case scenario, according to McKinsey & Co. analysis. Earlier projections didn’t anticipate returning to pre-pandemic levels until almost 2023.

The drastic scale back would reverberate across the region, resulting in a $65 billion loss in gross domestic product annually for the New York City region and costing a potential 450,000 jobs by 2022, according to an NYU Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management report.

“Firing 9,000 workers and slashing 40% of subway and bus service would cost millions of New Yorkers several hours of commuting time each week and devastate the city for decades to come,” said Betsy Plum, executive director of the Riders Alliance, a commuter advocacy group. “At the end of the day, Governor Cuomo must do all he possibly can to safeguard our transit system and New York’s future.”

The agency is seeking $12 billion of additional federal aid to help fill budget shortfalls this year and next and said it would need to borrow $3 billion to plug budget deficits.

The American Public Transportation Association has said agencies need $32 billion in emergency funding from Washington and warned that six in 10 public transit systems will need to reduce service and furlough employees in the coming months without additional funding from Congress.

The MTA board is reviewing a proposed 2021 budget the agency released Wednesday. That panel is set to vote on the spending plan next month.

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