By Mark Hallum
With possible fare hikes on the table for the cash-strapped MTA’s 2021 budget, the agency plans to hold a series of virtual hearings on the matter in order to address the financial crisis they are in due to COVID-19.
Six hearings, in all, will lead up to the December board meeting, in which the MTA’s board will be expected adopt a balanced budget. MTA leaders are looking for public engagement on what could be up to 4% increase going into 2021 and could help them shore up finances as massive deficits loom.
Along with a possible fare increase, the MTA plans other measures to address its budget gap: 40% service cuts on subways and buses, a 50% service cut on commuters railroads and a continued hold on the $51 billion capital plan adopted in January.
“The MTA will begin the standard review process for fare and toll adjustments, although we recognize this year is anything but standard, with a series of virtual public hearings,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said. “With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are committed to reviewing a wide variety of proposals and will work to minimize the impact on our customers. The MTA continues to face the worst financial crisis in its history and the best way to avoid these actions is for Congress to provide $12 billion in desperately needed funding.”
While best and worst case scenarios were rolled out Wednesday, as well as consideration for a $2.9 billion loan from the federal reserve, the MTA expects a $12 billion deficit by 2024 if the federal government does not deliver on financial support through a stimulus bill.
The current projection for a $12 billion deficit is a far cry from the expectations last time the MTA held hearings on a fare increase.
In December 2018, then-MTA Chairman Joe Lhota put the wheels in motion to cover a $1 billion deficit by 2022. Hearings led by former New York City Transit President Andy Byford were full of vitriol from members of the public who felt paying more for service that at the time was suffering was not in their best interest.
This time around, the MTA is holding out hope that Washington lawmakers in the Senate will deliver another stimulus reminiscent of the CARES Act, now eight months in the rearview mirror and the only such bill to pass in the ongoing pandemic. President-elect Joe Biden represents another glimmer of hope in January 2021.
The public can sign up for these virtual hearings by following this link and dates are below:
- Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 5:30 p.m.
- Thursday, Dec. 3, at 10 a.m.
- Monday, Dec. 7, at 5:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 5:30 p.m.
- Monday, Dec. 14, at 5:30 p.m.
- Monday, Dec. 21, at 10 a.m.