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Public transit must be saved

MTA Chairman Pat Foye at the MTA hearing

MTA Chairman Pat Foye at the MTA hearing today at their headquarters on Broadway on Aug. 16, 2019 Credit: Todd Maisel

The very real picture of what New York's public transit system — including the Long Island Rail Road — could look like in the not-so-distant future is, quite simply, horrific.

It's a future where, on the busiest branches, Long Island Rail Road trains come once an hour and lines with lower ridership might see a train every two hours. Some branches could be eliminated. And the dream of a path to Grand Central Terminal, known as East Side Access, could fade, at least for now.

That would come on top of severe service cuts to New York City subways and buses.

Then there are the jobs that would be lost: 850 on the LIRR and MetroNorth systems, and another 7,200 at New York City Transit.

There's only way to stop that painful portrayal from becoming reality: The federal government must step in. Saving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority means saving New York. And saving New York means saving the nation. Without a vibrant public transit system, neither will recover.

But so far, neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor President Donald Trump seems to care.

So, MTA chief executive Pat Foye had good reason to ratchet up his rhetoric during a special MTA board meeting Wednesday. He used words like "dire" and "draconian," and said the coronavirus pandemic's impact on public transit was more severe than that of the Great Depression. The MTA needs $12 billion to cover 2020 and 2021.

Cuts can be made to consultant contracts, management salaries and elsewhere. There is always fat to be found. But that's not enough. Union leaders and management must dig deep. During the Wednesday meeting, however, labor representatives were quick to reject the proposals, with one saying "We're just not accepting this." Instead of such pushback, riders, workers, and management will have to face the painful situation together.

But destroying the MTA can't be an option, as it will tear at the very fabric of the region's economy. We can't lose the important, well-paying jobs within the LIRR and subway system, we can't lose the service, and we can't lose the expansion projects we're depending on for growth, like East Side Access.

Our voices must be heard by Trump and McConnell. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and every single New York congressional representative must demand that a COVID-19 stimulus bill or some other funding mechanism provide financial aid to the MTA. Schumer and Rep. Tom Suozzi fought this fight during the first round of stimulus, and they're fighting again. But we need Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is so close to Trump that he was given a speaking role at the Republican National Convention, to make a visit to the Oval Office with a New York wish list. Trump has to put aside his animus toward New York Democrats and realize that destroying the circulation system of the region jeopardizes the lifeblood of the nation. Not to mention the investments of his family and his business organizations.

If New York doesn't move forward, no one will.

— The editorial board