Source: US Amalgamated Transit Union
In a sharp reversal, the MTA board this week will hold off on approving a budget that includes thousands of layoffs and draconian cuts to transit services, according to sources with knowledge of the decision.
The agency last month proposed a 40% cut to weekday subway service, the elimination of entire bus routes and the reduction of 9,367 jobs to plug a massive deficit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board was slated to approve the budget on Wednesday, but will instead approve a budget that assumes Congress will sign off on federal aid to balance a $4.5 billion gap. The budget will at least temporarily prevent the cuts to NYC Transit — but officials still plan to slash some LIRR service.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday that Democrats are in the final stretch of negotiating a pandemic relief package that includes roughly $4 billion for the MTA.
If the aid doesn’t come through by the end of January, the MTA would begin implementing the painful cuts to subway and bus service in May, according to documents obtained by the Daily News.
MTA spokesman Tim Minton wouldn’t confirm the board would be asked to act on a revised budget.
The MTA board is required by state law to pass a balanced budget each year, “but it’s not uncommon for the MTA to pass a budget with assumptions that haven’t been baked yet,” said Rachael Fauss, an analyst at the good-government group Reinvent Albany.
Fauss pointed out that in last year’s budget MTA officials assumed the city would increase its contribution to Access-A-Ride funding by $159 million — even though the City Council had not yet passed the bump.
But taking a leap of faith on billions in federal funding is an entirely different risk.
“The federal money is a huge question mark right now in terms of the amount they’ll get,” said Fauss. “If they don’t get it by a certain time then it will trigger certain actions, like service cuts.”
The aid that Schumer said he’s working to pass would cover just a third of the $12 billion MTA officials have said they’ll need to offset losses from the pandemic. Low ridership since March combined with dwindling state and city tax subsidies have hamstrung the agency’s $17 billion annual operating budget.
Even if Congress signs off on the money, MTA officials still plan to cut Long Island Rail Road service by approximately 25% starting Jan. 25, said Vincent Tessitore, a nonvoting MTA board member who represents the commuter railroad’s largest union.
The planned cuts include the elimination of all weekend service on the LIRR’s West Hempstead Branch and shifting weekend intervals on the Port Washington Branch from every 30 minutes to every hour, Tessitore said.
Transit officials will justify the LIRR cuts by declaring the changes as “rightsizing” service to current levels of ridership, said Minton. Ridership on the railroad is down by roughly 75% on weekdays from last year.
“The public will be affected and should be prepared for the need to modify their travel patterns,” said Tessitore. “When funding and ridership returns, we will be ready to get back to the service they will look for to bring them back to the system.”