New York transit officials on Wednesday heralded the latest award of $6.5 billion in federal aid and data showing ridership on the mass-transit system is starting to recover from pandemic lows.
chairman of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told MTA board members that funding in the latest federal coronavirus relief package will help avoid massive service cuts and layoffs over the next few years.
Mr. Foye added that subway use, which earlier this month topped 1.9 million rides in a single day for the first time since March 2020, is headed in the right direction. ”Getting customers back will be a huge priority in the months ahead,” he said.
The MTA, like transit agencies across the nation, suffered massive losses to fares and dedicated tax revenues after schools and businesses were closed to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus. New York City’s subway carried about 5.5 million riders on an average weekday before the pandemic.
Subway ridership started to tick up this past fall, reaching 1.8 million riders on many days in October and November. But it dipped again during the winter as the region experienced a new wave of infections.
Authority officials see signs of a slow recovery as vaccines become more widely distributed and restrictions on businesses are relaxed.
Thousands of MTA workers, who maintained subway, bus and commuter rail services during the height of the pandemic, have been infected or quarantined because of the virus. So far, 154 workers are believed to have died of Covid-19 related causes, according to agency data.
Patrick Warren, the MTA’s chief safety officer, said more than 25% of the workforce, about 18,000 people, have received at least one shot of Covid vaccine so far. The authority has set up its own vaccine sites to speed up the rollout to workers.
MTA officials tempered the positive developments with warnings about the months ahead.
During normal times the authority receives about $6 billion in fare revenue in its fiscal year. Mr. Foye said it isn’t clear how quickly ridership will recover. Even small shortfalls will place a huge burden on the authority’s operations, he said.
The authority has an annual operating budget of almost $18 billion. Since the start of the pandemic it has been awarded almost $15 billion in federal aid.
The MTA was also one of the few public authorities to tap a short-term lending program set up by the Federal Reserve to ease pandemic-related budget crises. The authority borrowed $2.9 billion to fund its operations.
the MTA’s chief financial officer, indicated the authority hasn’t used any of that money and said that because of the latest round of federal aid it shouldn’t need it in the next few years. But he said the agency will delay repaying it in case ridership and the regional economy don’t recover quickly enough. “In an ideal world we may not need it,” he said.
Write to Paul Berger at Paul.Berger@wsj.com
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Source: WSJ – US News