Go national in push for New York transit funding, Schumer implores

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New York-area transit advocates should pressure 21 key Republican senators nationwide for passage of the HEROES Act, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

"We need the HEROES bill and we need mass transit in it," Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday night on a webcast hosted by the Riders Alliance and other organizations. "Everyone has friends and family in other states."

The House of Representatives, with Democrats in the majority, passed the $3 trillion measure, the latest COVID-19-related rescue package, but it has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. "[Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell can put whatever he wants on the floor," Schumer said. "We can just block it."

"We need the HEROES bill and we need mass transit in it," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The bill includes $3.9 billion for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, matching what it received in April under the CARES Act. The MTA, which operates mass transit in the New York City region, lost $600 million in fare and toll revenue in April alone due to stay-at-home measures and other restrictions designed to counter the coronavirus. In addition, one of its major dedicated tax streams declined by nearly 50% in May.

It stands to run out of the federal dollars by the end of the summer.

The MTA, one of the largest municipal issuers with $46 billion in debt including special credits, has received multiple downgrades and warnings to its primary transportation revenue bond credit since the pandemic escalated in March.

Lack of further federal aid could force draconian service cuts, steep fare hikes or both. If so, "New York's economy would take much longer to recover from this virus," Schumer added.

Schumer, a Brooklyn native in his fourth term, said the HEROES bill would benefit small businesses, hospitals and nonprofits, and provide hazard pay for bus drivers and subway conductors. Under the bill, he added, New York State would receive $34 billion while New York City and other municipalities statewide would get $17 billion apiece, giving them the flexibility to further aid mass transit.

A Democratic presidential win in November — with Schumer presumably becoming Senate majority leader — could free up blocked funding for the Gateway tunnel project for New York and New Jersey, he said, as well as the Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station and other initiatives that include bus system electrification and expanded service to the outerborough "transit deserts."

Such areas, he said, include southeast Brooklyn, much of Queens and parts of the Bronx. "The Bronx has a lot of subway lines but they're all vertical. You can't go east-west. We need a line there."

The MTA’s operating budget topped $17 billion in 2020, and its 2020-2024 capital program is roughly $55 billion. Its spending plans top those of many states.

The MTA and transit advocates have been pitching the importance of the authority to the nation.

MTA spending created nearly $8 billion worth of vendor Jobs in 47 states over eight years, according to the New York-based watchdog organization Reinvent Albany.

"Beyond the value that mass transit provides to the metro region’s economy, the MTA creates jobs through its spending, both on capital projects and other goods and services," according to Reinvent Albany. "All the big parts that move riders, like train cars, buses, rails and tracks, are accompanied by spending on small items like signage, uniforms and cleaning supplies."

Less visible other areas of spending include software, computers, communications equipment and consultants who advise on finance, engineering, Internet technology and legal services.

In its own study of the MTA capital program, the business organization Partnership for New York City found that that 7,300 direct and indirect jobs are created in New York State for each $1 billion of direct spending within the state. The MTA has said its 2020-2024 capital plan will create 350,000 jobs statewide.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign called for long-term capital spending on improved sanitation equipment and flexibility if improved techniques become available. According to Tri-State executive director Nick Sifuentes, foreign cities, including London, Singapore, Vienna, Tokyo and Paris, provide effective cases studies.

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