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MTA will need $4B bailout because of pandemic, chief says

MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said Tuesday that New

MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said Tuesday that New York's mass-transit system will need a $4 billion federal bailout to survive plunging ridership and revenue in the wake of the coronavirus. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

ALBANY — New York’s mass transit system will need a $4 billion federal bailout to survive plunging ridership and revenue in the wake of the coronavirus, its chairman said Tuesday.

“The stark reality is that as more people stay home following the advice of medical experts, the M.T.A. is now facing financial calamity,” Patrick Foye, chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said in a letter to New York’s congressional delegation.

The MTA is projecting a $3.7 billion revenue decline for 2020 and is expecting to spend about $300 million on disinfecting cars and other COVID-19-related expenses, he said. Even with ongoing plans to improve its financial status, the MTA can’t withstand the downturn without help, he said.

“The M.T.A. has already committed to finding $2.8 billion in savings over the next several years,” Foye wrote. “No agency of our size can find additional billions in savings equivalent to the damages we have and will sustain as a result of this pandemic.”

In his letter, Foye said ridership has plummeted 60% on city subways, 67% on the LIRR, 90% on Metro North and 49% on buses. The Long Island Rail Road normally has about 300,000 daily riders.

He noted that New York generates about 10% of the nation’s gross domestic product and the transportation system is a key part of that output. Foye argued: “Restoring it is a matter of national interest.”

One transit analyst said the request isn’t out of line considering the MTA’s projected losses.

“$4 billion is not an insane amount for the MTA to ask for,” Nicole Gelinas, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, wrote on Twitter. “They are easily looking at a direct revenue hit of $2 billion over the next eight weeks, and who knows what recovery looks like. Will tourists, economic activity come back quickly or slowly?”

Gelinas said the severe drop likely means the MTA will have to at least temporarily decrease service in response.

The MTA is amid some long-running upgrades that have boosted on-time performance of its trains. Its board recently approved a $51 billion capital plan, on top of a $16.8 billion operating budget, which critics had said was based on “overly optimistic” finances.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) didn’t comment directly on Foye’s $4 billion request, but said Democrats would be pushing Washington to approve “substantial support” for New York’s vital transit system.

“New York’s subways, trains, and buses are our very lifeblood and the system is suffering brutal rider drop-off due to the crisis. Senate Democrats are leading the charge to include substantial support for the whole system in any package Congress will next consider to keep our vital public institutions stable and operating,” Schumer said in a statement to Newsday.

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