By Patrick J. Foye
The MTA is starting off the new year with renewed vigor, energized by the inclusion of $4 billion of federal funding and the upcoming inauguration of “Amtrak Joe” Biden. The president-elect is a longtime champion of mass transit, and so is the incoming Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer. As a New Yorker, Senator Schumer understands how vital a strong MTA is to the region and the national economy. Having this kind of federal support should allow us to maintain vital service as New York recovers and jump start projects that will help improve our system for decades to come.
We’re not wasting any time. Last week, MTA crews began the final phase of work on the Rutgers Tube rehabilitation project – the last of our Superstorm Sandy-related tunnel repairs. Once this critical work is finished this spring, riders on the F line from East Broadway in Manhattan to York Street in Brooklyn can enjoy a more reliable commute thanks to new track, power and signal equipment. Plus, there will be cellular service throughout the tunnel, along with improved resiliency features and new ADA station components at East Broadway.
We’re not letting up on our commitment to increasing systemwide accessibility. We just finished our most recent ADA elevator installation at the Gunhill Road 5 station in the Bronx – the 12th subway station we’ve finished in the last calendar year, and we have plans to complete at least eight more in 2021. On the Long Island Rail Road, we’re about to cut the ribbon on three new elevators at Floral Park.
But even with this promising start to the new year, we are clear-eyed about the challenges facing the MTA in the months and years ahead. At our January meeting, the MTA Board is scheduled to discuss fare adjustments, followed in February by similar review of tolls. These meetings follow a lengthy process where we meticulously laid out various scenarios at eight public hearings in December that drew record participation from the public.
From this outreach, we know that any increase will affect New Yorkers and our goal is to minimize the impact as much as possible. But the truth is fare and toll hikes were baked into our financial plan long before COVID struck. The budget accounts for increases on par with prior adjustments. They are not intended to address losses caused by the ongoing pandemic.
And to be clear, our financial problems did not disappear with the end of 2020. The federal aid directed to the MTA in the latest COVID relief bill gets us through 2021 without devastating cuts to service and layoffs of over 9,000 colleagues, but our projected $8 billion out-year deficit remains. Without a doubt, we will need additional funding from Congress to survive the impact of the pandemic. Until we get it, we’re facing an inevitable financial collapse; though with a new President, Senator Schumer leading the Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who have been great supporters of the MTA, we are more hopeful we will receive the support we need from the federal government.
We’ve proved time and again that our system is well worth the investment. Public transportation has kept the city and region functioning throughout this crisis, and we’ll carry it into recovery, too. New Yorkers of all incomes and backgrounds depend on us to get to work, school and so much more – especially essential workers during COVID. We’re dedicated to providing them with the safe and reliable service they need, but we can’t do it without our partners at the federal level. Now that we have the strong support of both houses of Congress, we can make 2021 the start of a new era for the MTA. Let’s get to work.