Riders at risk of massive service cuts as MTA billions in debt amid COVID crisis

(Ester Wells/Medill)

By Ester Wells
Medill Reports

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the largest transportation network in North America, is at a crossroads, with a $12 billion deficit projected through 2024. While foregoing an immediate fare hike, the MTA has threatened mass layoffs and service cuts of up to 50% as it faces the “the worst financial crisis in agency history.”

MTA officials have turned to federal emergency relief and increased borrowing from the Federal Reserve to stay above water. Depressed ridership due to COVID-19 and overnight cleaning procedures are placing an intense financial strain on the MTA and riders, including essential workers and low-income communities of color. Without a massive financial turnaround, the agency’s badly needed improvement projects remain delayed and riders, still at risk of service reductions. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted an extreme personal and financial toll on our agency and our dedicated employees, surpassing that of the aftermath of 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008-09 and even the Great Depression,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye at public hearing on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2021 executive budget in January.

The MTA reflects the critical challenge facing transit agencies around the country — how to cut costs and stabilize their increasingly fragile budgets without sacrificing significant service and hurting the people who rely on them most.

Ester Wells covers health, environment and science at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @esterwells_.