‘At the edge of an abyss’: Transit advocates plead with Schumer to get MTA financial aid


By Mark Hallum

Some of New York’s most vocal transit advocates want Senator Charles Schumer to pull out all the stops to deliver emergency funding to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in its hour of need and bring the HEROES Act to the floor for a vote.

In a letter, a coalition of organizations such as the Riders Alliance and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest is telling Schumer that now is the time to exercise his authority as the Senate Minority Leader to deliver the $3.9 billion promised to the MTA in the stimulus package that supports the operating costs of the nations largest transit network.

The MTA announced recently that not only is it facing a $10 billion deficit from COVID-19, but also, the $3.8 billion in federal aid provided to them in the CARES Act in March will be exhausted by the end of June.

“After a devastating spring when New York became the global pandemic epicenter, our city has only just begun to recover from COVID. Meanwhile, we look anxiously at surging infection rates nationwide and try to prevent an imminent second wave here,” the coalition letter to Schumer stated. “The collapse of the public transit system our region depends on would knock us back on our heels at the worst possible moment. New York’s entire recovery would falter. With more than half of essential workers dependent on public transit, our heroic emergency response capability would dissipate.”

The MTA has expressed desperation for the state of their finances, announcing in their June meeting that they would need to put their $51 billion capital plan to modernize the New York City Transit system on hold until better days arrive. The deficit stems from a massive loss in ridership, reduced by over 90% over the course of New York’s most difficult phase of the epidemic yet.

“The MTA is facing financial catastrophe and we urgently need action from the U.S. Senate to deliver an additional $3.9 billion in funding. We thank the advocates for their support,” MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring the HEROES Act to the floor for a vote despite pressure from states. The Republican senator from Kentucky referred to it as a “blue state bailout,” and elected officials such as Governor Andrew Cuomo have shot back accusing him of putting politics above good government during the crisis.

Noted by transit officials as well as the advocates listed below is the fact that the New York City metro area contributed up to a tenth of the national GDP, and with subways, buses and trains being the engine behind this productivity, funding is a critical investment.

“We urge you to do everything in your significant power to bring more aid to the MTA now. The agency’s need has never been more dire nor its importance greater. Time is quickly running out,” the letter from advocates concluded.

Schumer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also signing on to the letter were leaders such as Betsy Plum, executive director of the Riders Alliance, McGregor Smyth of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Julie Tighe of the New York League of Conservation Voters, Jaqi Cohen of NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, Lisa Daglian of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Thomas K. Wright of the Regional Plan Association, John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, Eric McClure of StreetsPAC, Danny Harris of Transportation Alternatives and Nick Sifuentes of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.