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Washington must help financially strapped MTA

People wearing a mask while traveling on the

People wearing a mask while traveling on the LIRR in Freeport on April 3, 2020. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

To the people across the region who so desperately want the economy reopened and a New York comeback to begin, especially those who might have the ear of President Donald Trump and his cabinet members:

We need your help. 

Perhaps the most significant piece of the conundrum of reopening is public transit. We have to be able to get people safely back on the Long Island Rail Road, the subways and buses.

But the never-flush Metropolitan Transportation Authority is really down on its luck. Their consultants estimate the coronavirus shutdown will cause it to lose between $7 billion and $8.5 billion in revenue for this year alone. For the MTA to keep operating, Congress must provide the authority with the $3.9 billion in funds it needs.

That's where you come in.

Yes, we know this ask is on top of the $3.8 billion already allocated to the MTA. 

But this is an unprecedented moment.

Ridership is down by more than 90 percent. Significantly, there also are 62 percent fewer bridge and tunnel crossings, which means no tolls, and plenty of revenue from dedicated tax streams that isn't coming in. Then there's the extra unanticipated costs — like the hundreds of millions of dollars for disinfecting, cleaning, and more. 

Meanwhile, the trains and buses keep running, transporting our nurses, police officers, store clerks and other essential workers to where they need to go. In the process, 68 MTA employees have died, and 2,400 have tested positive for COVID-19.

This isn't the time for fare increases, service cuts, layoffs and pay cuts. The only answer lies in the federal government, which can print the money to keep New York moving.

Even if Congress sends some bucks in an upcoming disaster-relief bill, the MTA confronts a costly and difficult effort to find the most innovative ways to clean and maintain a germ-free system, to ramp up service with a limited pool of employees, and persuade riders who might be fearful to return. How do we avoid overcrowding, restore confidence, and keep our public transit workers safe? 

But first, the money. Led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, there is bipartisan support among the area's congressional delegation for the funds. But we need our other regional power brokers — from business owners and investors to political allies and friends of Trump, to step up to personally lobby President Donald Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Whether or not you've ever ridden the Long Island Rail Road, or seen the inside of a city bus, call the president and his allies at the White House and in Congress, and encourage them to make New York's public transit a priority.

Together, we can get the MTA back on track.

— The editorial board