The MTA - which presides over Manhattan's beating heart: it's mass transit infrastructure - just gave millions of New Yorkers yet another reason to flee the city: on Wednesday, the state-controlled agency announced some of the most onerous budget cuts in its history to try and offset the the plunge in ridership, and the other depredations that have resulted from COVID-19 placing unprecedented strain on the system.
After ending the subway's famed 24-7 service during the COVID-19 lockdown, the MTA is proposing a 40% cut in weekday service and layoffs of 9,367 MTA workers (8k from the subway/bus system in the city, and another 1k from Metro-North). Many of these workers fought on the front lines of the crisis as the virus swept through the city last spring
One advocate for riders told the Daily News that this "would absolutely be an end to the New York way of life," if the cuts become reality.
"People expect to leave their home or office and get a train or bus within a very reasonable wait of time," Albert said. "Cuts of this magnitude mean virtually no social distancing. It’s just a nonstarter to me."
And unless the federal government steps in with funding to assist the state in rebuilding the subway, it's possible that NYC's reputation as the 'city that never sleeps' could be tarnished forever. Another advocate described it as a "doomsday" budget proposal.
In addition to the weekday cutbacks, weekend service could be cancelled entirely, or at least sharply restricted.
To be sure, cutbacks would also impact bus routes, though the agency says it's trying to ensure that riders across NYC aren't "more than a half mile away" from a bus or subway line.
The plan is expected to be approved during Wednesday's meeting of the MTA board, which is controlled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The firings alone would save the MTA more than $1.27 billion annually. That's far short of the $12 billion federal bailout that the MTA has asked for. Even with these cuts, along with $1.5 billion in money earmarked for construction moved to the operating budget, the MTA won't be able to cover its nut through 2023, necessitating fare hikes. Notably, all this is happening as the virus continues to accelerate across the state, around the country.
If federal aid doesn't come through, authorities have warned they would be left with no choice but to raise subway fares by 36% to $3.75 from $2.75, an unprecedented jump. Such a massive inflationary hit could squeeze hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of low-income riders.
MTA Chairman Pat Foye said Tuesday that his "hand would be forced" if "the federal government doesn't come through with the funding." Union leaders are urging the state to raise taxes on gasoline or stock trades before approving more layoffs at the MTA.
Tony Utano, the head of TWU Local 100, warned that "the MTA’s budget proposal is an outrageous and cowardly surrender to the coronavirus, and a slap in the face of every transit workers...tossing thousands of workers onto the street and leaving entire neighborhoods without service are not answers."
As we wait to see if the proposal will be enacted, we can't help but wonder how many people would want to stay in NYC if it had no restaurants, no bars and no subway service?