Transit systems say they have done all they can
The next step, they say, is up to Washington.
Transportation executives repeated their call during an online meeting Wednesday for up to $32 billion to supplement what they already received through CARES Act, when the pandemic first escalated in March.
Federal aid “is critical to our survival,” said Patrick Foye, chairman of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA, according to Foye, is losing $200 million weekly.
Congressional leaders and the Trump administration are debating the latest rescue aid during a lame-duck session. A transit-specific package looms when Democrat Joe Biden replaces Republican Donald Trump next month.
“A Biden-facilitated package will very likely include direct aid for mass transit and other pandemic-afflicted municipal bond sectors that could prevent service cuts and dull the severity of the crisis among larger issuers,” Municipal Market Analytics said in a commentary.
Still, transit systems are looking for lame-duck funding as a bridge as they face mounting deficits and the specter of severe service cuts, layoffs and delayed projects due to reduced ridership from emergency restrictions.
“Without something happening in the lame-duck session, as early as the first quarter of 2021, we’re going to have to make some very, very difficult decisions in terms of service and staffing,” said Alex Wiggins, chief executive of the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, which has experienced a 60% ridership drop.
The Washington Area Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants $500 million to cover the deficit in its operating budget. Only 20% to 25% of pre-pandemic ridership has returned. Its proposed plan would close subway service at 9 p.m., end weekend service and shut down 19 rail stations, among other measures.
Inez Evans, the president of the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp., or IndyGo, said her agency's bus network redesign is on hold.. Federal funding accounts for nearly half the $362 million cost of those two projects.
San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit faces a $200 million deficit for this fiscal year and next, according to general manager Robert Powers.
“As we ask for emergency aid from the federal government, we are committed to doing our part to be fiscally responsible,” he said. “Service-level planning for next year is well under way.”
BART has continued seven-day service, said Powers, though with less frequent service and earlier evening closings.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is losing $1 million daily and projects an operating gap of $622 million through fiscal 2023. CARES Act funds will only support operations through the end of next year, general manager Leslie Richards said.
New York MTA, which has warned of up to 9,500 layoffs and service cuts of up to 40% on subways and buses and up to 50% on commuter rail, has requested $12 billion in aid. The doomsday cuts would take effect in the spring.
The MTA board is expected to vote on the cuts next Wednesday, along with the state-run authority’s 2021 operating budget.
“There is a very real-world possibility where $12 billion isn't enough,” said Rachael Fauss, senior research analyst for the New York-based good government group Reinvent Albany.
Worst-case scenarios could push five-year deficits to $23 billion from the $16 billion the MTA projected in its financial plan, she warned.
The MTA, in its November plan, also warned of further cuts from New York State, which has its own budget struggles.