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MTA Considers Austerity Plan Amid Budget Issues

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On November 18th, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority released a budget proposal that would impose strict austerity measures likely to change the nature of New York’s bustling underground, bus, and rail system for years to come. Among these measures are a 40% to 50% reduction in service, a layoff of 9,367 workers (a 13% reduction in staff), a commuter rail rollback to hourly service, and increased fares. [1] The authority points to the massive drop in revenue following unprecedented reductions in daily ridership as the cause of the $4 billion deficit it is currently facing. 

The proposal has, of course, drawn severe criticism. Critics warn that subways will be more packed than ever, increasing the health hazards of publicly commuting tenfold. They also charge that rider dissatisfaction will peak, leading to a drop in daily ridership likely to outlast the development of a widely available vaccine for COVID-19. In response to these criticisms, representatives at the MTA have sought to clarify that the cutbacks in service, difficult as they may be, will be necessary to sustain vital funds. 

Aboveground, MTA busses will suffer similar cutbacks, with nearly a fourth of bus routes facing service reductions. In fact, nearly half of the layoffs will come from the bus department. This is especially concerning to some critics of the proposal, as they fear a union prompted slowdown in response to the layoffs. President of the Transit Workers Union, John Samuelsen explained to the New York Times that the “work force will correctly view this as the greatest betrayal of their careers… There will be a rank-and-file rebellion… [leading] to a disruption in service.” [1] His prediction is bolstered by the fact that transit workers were considered essential and worked through the height of the NYC outbreak.

The proposal, which is under review now, is slated to be voted on next month. A budget must be decided upon by the start of next year. By painting such dismal portraits of the future of public transit, the MTA appears to be attempting to force congress’s hand in giving aid. Though it already received $4 billion in federal funding this year, the nearly year-long dip in revenue has proved difficult to overcome for the already struggling authority. The MTA reports that it would need at least another $3 billion in aid to mitigate the consequences of this year’s deficits, but is asking for $12 billion to ensure full service. In other words, a federal bailout could stop the grim budget proposal from moving forward: filling the hole left by this year’s loss of billions in revenue, ensuring enough funding for operational costs at leasts, and preventing cutbacks and cost hikes.

On that point, it has become clear that the fate of the MTA in the coming years will be decided in Georgia, of all places. According to political experts, a federal bailout—a high point of contention between Democrats and Republicanswill rest on whether or not the latter retain a senate majority. That majority will be decided in two runoff elections in Georgia, with results expected in January. The election of Joe Biden notwithstanding, experts posit that the proposed $12 billion in federal aid will be drastically reduced or struck down altogether under a red majority. Without aid, the proposed austerity measures could be implemented as early as May next year. 

Sources:

[1] – Goldbaum, Christina, “Subway Service Could Be Cut 40% if No Federal Aid Arrives,” New York Times, 18 Nov. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/18/nyregion/nyc-mta-budget-cuts.html, accessed 19 Nov. 2020.

[2] – Kaske, Michelle, “New York MTA Warns of 40% Subway Cut, Shedding 9,300 Jobs,” Bloomberg, 18 Nov. 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-18/new-york-mta-eyes-9-367-layoffs-as-agency-waits-for-federal-aid, accessed 19 Nov. 2020.

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