Cutting service, laying off transit workers, delaying or canceling signal and station upgrades and loading up on debt. The MTA says that's what the transit agency and its millions of riders will face unless the federal government helps to fill a $14 billion hole the coronavirus is carving out of the MTA's finances.
“This is a four-alarm fire," said MTA Executive Director Pat Foye. "We are facing the most acute financial crisis in the history of the MTA.”
In a budget presentation at its monthly board meeting, the MTA’s budget chief laid out the grim financial picture, including a freeze on work under the agency's $51.5 billion capital program, delaying marquee projects like installing computerized signal systems and making 23 subway stations accessible with the addition of elevators.
“Our flagship programs in the capital program are being delayed,” said Janno Lieber, the MTA development chief.
That means riders might feel financial shock waves from the coronavirus long after the pandemic is over.
“Those momentary cuts in investment, especially in an old system that needs state-of-good repair investment, have dramatic long-term consequences," Lieber said. “Service gets unreliable, things break down and our customers feel the consequences.”
The MTA has lost billions of dollars in tax revenue, fares and tolls as a result of reduced business and recreational activities business because of the coronavirus.
The MTA has kept the trains and buses running thanks to a federal aid package worth $3.8 billion.
But that money will be exhausted sometime next month.
The MTA is seeking another round of funding, $3.9 billion, to get through the year, but it is still projecting more red ink next year, because business activity and ridership likely will still be below normal.
"The deficit in 2021 is $6 or $7 billion dollars. These are projections. Could be higher, could be lower. But it’s absolutely essential that we get the federal funding," Foye said.
While the agency could make riders pay more to help reduce the deficit, the MTA chairman said officials were not considering additional fare and toll hikes beyond the planned 4% increase previously planned for next year.