The MTA is still mulling service cuts in the coming years, despite receiving nearly $15 billion in federal aid since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said Wednesday.
Transit leaders anticipate a multi-billion dollar deficit as soon as 2025, if the authority opts to skip this year’s planned fare increase, Chief Financial Officer Bob Foran said during the authority’s monthly board meeting.
“We’re going to run out of federal aid by 2024, and we’ll face a $3.5 billion cumulative deficit in ‘24 and ‘25,” Foran told board members.
“At some point, we need to figure out where is our ridership needing us to take them, what are the levels of service that we need to provide to meet the needs… so that we don’t have to do some last-minute, desperate, massive layoffs.”
Powerful MTA board member Larry Schwartz, an appointee and key aide of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, declared Monday that “there’s not going to be a fare hike in 2021” — something Foran said will cost the MTA $890 million through 2025.
Both Foran and outgoing MTA CEO Pat Foye used the term “right-sizing” on Wednesday to describe any hypothetical service changes.
But board members were unconvinced, and warned reduced service would leave riders waiting longer for more crowded trains.
“Personally I have right sizing on high on my list of the top 10 weasel words you hear in negotiations [and] budget discussions,” said labor union rep Norman Brown.
“It’s clear to me it’s an exchange here,” Brown said. “The good news for the customer is there’s been a fare freeze — but the bad news is the head-times and the crowding on the train will both work in the opposite direction.”
The MTA received $14.5 billion in federal aid from various stimulus packages passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which decimated fare revenues.
Transit officials pushed hard for the federal money — threatening massive service cuts and layoffs if they did not get help. Aside from federal dollars, officials also sought to narrow the budget gap with a two-year wage freeze and deficit financing.
Foran said the financial forecast could wind up rosier if ridership grows fast than expected. The MTA currently projects ridership to peak at 85 percent pre-COVID levels.
Transit advocates have called on the federal government to provide even more direct funds for the MTA and other transit systems struggling to attract riders post-pandemic.
“Foran in his remarks was clear that the MTA is going to be perusing fare hikes into the future — unless there is another source of reoccurring, sustainable revenue,” said Straphangers Campaign coordinator Jaqi Cohen.
“The devil is in the details when it comes to fare hikes being taken off the table. While we’re thrilled to see no fare hike happening 2021, service cuts — especially at a time when we need more service to accommodate growing ridership — are not a good thing.”