MTA FACING “FINANCIAL CALAMITY”

MTA FACING “FINANCIAL CALAMITY”

SUBWAY RIDERSHIP DOWN 80%

SERVICE CUTS GO INTO EFFECT WEDNESDAY

FUTURE OF CAPITAL PLAN “UP IN THE AIR”

As ridership plummets on the subway, buses and commuter rail lines, Stephen Nessen, WNYC transportation reporter, reports on the MTA’s request for a $4 billion federal bailout, as well as what safety measures being implemented to protect the safety of riders and transit workers.

Nessen breaks down the declining ridership numbers that has now prompted MTA Chairman Pat Foye to announce cuts to day-to-day service, to go into effect on Wednesday.

Nessen explains that the corresponding drop in “fare box” revenue is likely to have dire consequences for the MTA’s already “precarious” finances.  There’s also uncertainty about the future of the $51 billion capital plan unveiled last year. “That’s a big mystery”, explained Nessen. “We’re all waiting to find what happens to this big capital plan. Before the crisis, the MTA was making some of the biggest plans it’s ever made to modernize the subways. Now it’s very much in the air”

In a New York Times Op-Ed this week, Foye renewed his call for the federal government to step in with a $4 billion bailout for the MTA.

For more on the latest MTA service cuts, check the MTA website .

The  NJ Transit website is also posting schedule changes.

Aired on March 25, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> HELLO, I'M RAFAEL P. ROMAN.

YOU KNOW, LIKE YOU AT HOME, WE HERE AT 'METROFOCUS' ARE PRACTICING SOCIAL DISTANCING DURING THIS CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC.

NEVERTHELESS, WE ARE COMMITTED TO BRINGING YOU THE MOST IMPORTANT STORIES AFFECTING OUR COMMUNITY.

TONIGHT WE ARE LOOKING AT HOW THE CRISIS IS IMPACTING OUR PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM ECONOMICALLY.

IS THE MTA FACING A FINANCIAL CALAMITY?

JOINING US NOW IS WYNC THE TRANSPORTATION REPORTER.

STEVEN, THANKS FOR JOINING US.

THE FIRST QUESTION, BEFORE WE GET TO THE ECONOMICS, WHAT'S THE STATUS, THE GENERAL STATUS OF BUSES AND SUBWAYS?

ARE THEY STILL RUNNING ON REGULAR SCHEDULE?

YEAH, AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE TRAINS ARE ABSOLUTELY RUNNING ON A REGULAR SCHEDULE.

BUSES ARE DOING THEIR BEST TO KEEP A REGULAR SCHEDULE BECAUSE THE ROADS ARE SO EMPTY RIGHT NOW.

BUSES CAN RUN MUCH EASIER THAN NORMAL.

SO THEY NEED TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY CAN STAY ON THE REGULAR SCHEDULE.

BUT METRO-NORTH, LONG ISLAND RAILROAD ARE RUNNING ON REGULAR SCHEDULE.

THEY ARE WORKING HARD TO ENSURE THAT FIRST RESPONDERS, NURSES, PEOPLE WHO ARE PROVIDING ESSENTIAL GOVERNMENT SERVICES, THOSE KINDS OF FOLKS, CAN CONTINUE TO USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION TO GET AROUND DURING THIS CRISIS.

BUT WHAT'S THE RIDERSHIP LIKE ACTUALLY?

I MEAN, ALMOST EVERYONE AND ALMOST EVERYTHING LOCKED DOWN.

WHO IS RIDING THE SUBWAY NOW OR THE BUS?

YEAH, IT IS -- THE DROP IN RIDERSHIP IS INCREDIBLE.

METRO-NORTH HAS SEEN A 90% DROP IN RIDERSHIP.

THAT MEANS ONLY 10% OF THE REGULAR CUSTOMERS ARE STILL GOING.

LONG ISLAND RAILROAD IS DOWN 60%, 70%. SUBWAYS ARE DOWN AS WELL.

INCREDIBLE NUMBERS.

80% OF THE RIDERSHIP IS DOWN.

BUSES ARE ABOUT MAYBE 50.

THOSE NUMBERS ARE GOING UP EVERY DAY AS FEWER AND FEWER PEOPLE LEAVE THEIR HOMES.

I SHOULD SAY THE CITY DID AN INTERESTING ANALYSIS OF TURNSTILE DATA AND FOUND IN MANHATTAN THAT'S THE BIGGEST DROP IN RIDERSHIP.

SOME OF THE OUTER BOROUGHS, DEEPER IN THE BRONX AND QUEENS AND BROOKLYN, THE RIDERSHIP DROP HAS NOT BEEN QUITE AS SETEEP AS THE CENTER OF MANHATTAN.

YOU HAVE SEEN THE PHOTOS OF TIMES SQUARE.

NOBODY IS THERE.

IT'S NOT SO EVENLY DISTRIBUTED BY THE RIDERSHIP IS INCREDIBLY DOWN.

AND THE MTA VERY CONCERNED ABOUT FARE BOX REVENUE WHICH IS NOT THE LARGEST SOURCE OF FUNDING, BUT A LARGE SOURCE OF FUNDING.

AND IN FACT I SHOULD TELL YOU THIS WEEK THE MTA BEGAN DOING REAR BOARDING ON BUSES, ALMOST EVERY SINGLE BUS, YOU CAN BOARD FROM THE REAR NOW, WHICH MEANS A LOT OF FOLKS WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PAYUP UPFRONT UNLESS YOU ARE IN A SELECT BUS SERVICE BUSES AND THE MTA IS OKAY WITH THAT.

THEY WANT TO PROTECT THE BUS DRIVERS AND INSURE THEY ARE KEEPING THE SIX FEET OF DISTANCE, WHICH IS INCREDIBLY HARD WHEN YOU ARE DRIVING A BUS.

I GUESS THAT'S THE BIGGEST ARGUMENT FOR KEEPING THE REGULAR SCHEDULE BECAUSE IF THEY REDUCE THE SCHEDULE, SOCIAL DISTANCING WOULD BE MUCH MORE DIFFICULT.

PROTECTING THE BUS DRIVER, TALK ABOUT HOW SAFE IS THE SITUATION FOR ALL TRANSPORTATION WORKERS AND FOR THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO END UP USING THE SYSTEM?

WELL, THE MTA IS DOING A VERY AGGRESSIVE CLEANING CAMPAIGN.

THEY HAVE BEEN DOING IT WELL OVER A WEEK NOW.

THAT INCLUDES DISINFECTING ALL THE BUSES, ALL THE TRAINS, ALL THE COMMUTER RAIL TRAINS AS WELL.

EVERY 72 HOURS, THEY SORT OF ROLL THROUGH THE SYSTEM.

EACH GETS A DEEP CLEANING.

THAT GOES FOR STATIONS WHICH ARE GETTING CLEANED AT LEAST TWICE A DAY.

MTA OFFICES, THEY HAVE A LOT OF OFFICE WORKERS, AND THEY WERE VERY WERND ABOUT GETTING THOSE PLACES CLEANED.

THE MTA ASSURES US THOSE ARE BEING CLEANED EVERY DAY.

THEY ARE USING A SPECIAL FORMULA THAT THE CDC RECOMMENDS.

AND VERY EARLY, I BELIEVE, YOU KNOW, WHEN WE WERE STARTING TO SEE THE NEW ROCHELLE CASE, THE MTA IMMEDIATELY ROLLED OUT AGGRESSIVE CLEANING MEASURES TO LET THE PUBLIC KNOW IT IS SAFE TO RIDE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AS THIS SORT OF CRISIS UNFOLDED IT BECAME, WELL, MAKE SURE YOU KEEP DISTANCE, STAY OUT OF PUBLIC.

THE MTA MADE SURE THOSE FOLKS WHO NEED TO GO INTO THE PUBLIC CAN DO SO SAFELY AND THE BUSES ARE CLEAN, THE SUBWAYS ARE CLEAN AND ACCESSORY VANS AS WELL.

THOSE HAVE BEEN CLEANED EVERY DAY.

IN FACT, THE MTA, YOU KNOW, THEY USED TO SHARE THOSE VAN RIDES WHERE THEY PICK SEVERAL PEOPLE UP ON A ROUTE.

THAT'S NOW STOPPED.

IT'S JUST ONE PERSON IN THE VAN AT A TIME.

THOSE SERVICES ARE STILL CONTINUING FOR FOLKS WHO NEED TO GET WHERE THEY NEED TO GO.

AND SPECIFICALLY THE HEALTH OF THE TRANSPORTATION WORKERS, DO WE KNOW THE NUMBER OF TRANSPORTATION WORKERS WHO HAVE TESTED POSITIVE FOR THE VIRUS?

WELL, JUST LIKE EVERYONE IN NEW YORK CITY, THEY ARE NOT IMMUNE TO IT.

AS THE NUMBERS GO UP INEVITABLY THE NUMBER OF TRANSIT WORKERS IS GOING TO GO UP.

THE LATEST NUMBER IS 30, BUT THE NUMBERS GO UP EVERY DAY.

IN FACT, JUST THIS MORNING, I SHOULD SAY LAST NIGHT, THEY TESTED SOMEONE AT THE END OF THE AC LINE, AND THEY HAD TO CLEAR OUT A BUNCH OF WORKERS AND TELL FOLKS STAY AWAY FOR THE TIME BEING SO THEY DIDN'T HAVE ENOUGH WORKERS TO RUN THE C TRAIN THIS MORNING.

THAT'S GOING TO CHANGE, OF COURSE, AS MORE WORKERS CYCLE BACK IN.

THEY WILL GET THE TRAINS UP AND RUNNING AGAIN.

BUT THAT IS AN ONGOING CONCERN THAT IF ENOUGH WORKERS ON A PARTICULAR LINE OR A DEPOT TEST POSITIVE AND THEY NEED TO CLEAR THE SPACE OUT, DISINFECT IT, IT'S POSSIBLE THEY WON'T HAVE ENOUGH PEOPLE TO RUN CERTAIN LINES.

LAST WEEK IT WAS THE FRESH PONDS MEADOW BUS DEPOT HAD SOME ISSUES.

BUT THE MTA IS VERY AGGRESSIVE AND THEY FOLLOW THE STATE PROTOCOL AS FAR AS WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU FEEL SICK, IF YOU NEED TO SEE A DOCTOR, IF YOU TEST POSITIVE.

THERE IS SORT OF A CHECKLIST.

AND THE UNION TELLS ME IT'S GOOD.

IT'S RELIABLE AND THEY ARE DOING THEIR BEST AND THEY ARE SATISFIED THAT THE MTA IS ALSO DOING ITS BEST TO PROTECT ITS WORKERS.

YEAH, I SHOULD SAY THAT WE ARE TAPING THIS ON MONDAY EVENING.

SO, THAT'S THE REFERENCE YOU ARE MAKING.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE FINANCIAL SITUATION.

IS THE VIRUS CREATING WHAT SOME ARE CALLING AN MTA FINANCIAL CALAMITY OR POTENTIAL FINANCIAL CALAMITY?

WELL, WE WEREN'T EVEN A WEEK AND A HALF INTO IT BEFORE THE CHAIRMAN PAT FOYE SENT A LETTER TO NEW YORK'S CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION ASKING FOR A $4 BILLION BAILOUT TO HELP THEM.

THAT'S ANTICIPATING ROUGHLY $4 BILLION LOST BY THE END OF 20 TO DUE TO THE CORONAVIRUS.

AND THAT INCLUDES A FARE BOX REVENUE LOST, BUT ALSO NEW YORK STATE TAXES, WHICH THE MTA RELIES QUITE A BIT ON, TO FINANCE ITS OPERATING BUDGET.

THE MTA'S OPERATING BUDGET WAS ALREADY ON VERY PRECARIOUS FOOTING AS IT WAS.

I MEAN, BY STATE LAW, THEY NEED TO BALANCE THEIR BUDGET EVERY YEAR.

EVERY YEAR THEY JUST GET TO THE BALANCING POINT WHERE IT'S JUST EVEN, AND THEN TWO YEARS OUT THEY ARE PROJECTING A $1 BILLION DEFICIT.

$500 MILLION DEFICIT.

THEY ARE DOING A LOT TO CUT COSTS.

JUST BEFORE THIS HAPPENED, THEY WERE IN THE MIDST OF AN INCREDIBLE REORGANIZATION --

AND I WANT TO GET TO THAT.

BUT LET ME ASK YOU THE BASIC QUESTION.

WHAT IS THE ARGUMENT THAT PAT FOYE IS MAKING TO THE FEDS FOR THIS AMOUNT OF MONEY TO COME TO NEW YORK CITY?

I MEAN, IT COULD BE A CATASTROPHE FOR US, BUT HOW IS THAT A NATIONAL CATASTROPHE?

I MEAN, THEY SAY NEW YORK CITY IS THE LIFEBLOOD -- THE MTA IS THE LIFEBLOOD OF NEW YORK CITY.

NEW YORK IS THE LIFEBLOOD OF THE NATION AS FAR AS GENERATING GDP AND THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE HERE WHO CONTRIBUTE TO THE NATIONAL ECONOMY.

BEFORE THIS WE WERE TALKING ABOUT WHAT A CATASTROPHE IT WOULD BE IF NEW JERSEY COMMUTERS COULDN'T GET IN FROM, THROUGH THE GATEWAY TUNNEL IF THAT DOESN'T GET BUILT, LET ALONE NEW YORK CITY WORKERS NOT BEING ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE ECONOMY.

WALL STREET IS HERE, OF COURSE.

SO MANY COMPANIES ARE BASED IN NEW YORK CITY.

PEOPLE NEED TO BE ABLE TO GET AROUND AND MOVE FREELY.

THE MTA ALSO ARGUES SOMETHING LIKE 38% OF PUBLIC TRANSIT RIDERS RIDES HAPPEN IN NEW YORK CITY WHETHER IT'S LONG ISLAND RAILROAD, METRO-NORTH BUSES, SUBWAYS, ET CETERA.

SO NOT HAVING AN MTA SUBWAY THEY FEAR COULD HAVE QUITE BIG NATIONAL REPERCUSSIONS FINANCIALLY IF COMMERCE CAN'T FLOW AND MONEY CAN'T BE GENERATED HERE LIKE IT USED TO BE.

AND I GUESS HAVE YOU HEARD ANYTHING ABOUT, CONCERNS ABOUT WHAT THE MUNICIPAL BOND MARKET OR THE NATURE COULD BE IF THE MTA GOES BELLY UP?

WELL, CERTAINLY THE MTA RELIES A LOT ON SELLING BONDS.

ITS RATING WAS NOT TOO BAD AS FAR AS I UNDERSTAND.

I AM CERTAINLY NOT AN EXPERT IN THE MTA'S BOND ISSUES, BUT I DO KNOW THAT THEY RELY A LOT ON CREDIT.

THEY WILL HAVE A LOT OF DEBT COMING UP.

SO I SUPPOSE THAT WILL ALSO BE A MAJOR CONCERN IF THEY CAN'T PAY THEIR DEBT.

A LOT OF THEIR OPERATING FUNDING GOES TOWARDS PAYING DOWN DEBT FOR MONEY THEY BORROWED IN THE PAST.

SO IF THEY CAN'T CONTINUE TO PAY THAT OFF, IT IS GOING TO BE DIFFICULT.

IF THEY CAN'T SELL BONDS TO FINANCE OTHER OPERATIONS AND PROJECTS, IT'S GOING TO BE A PROBLEM.

THEY JUST CASHED OUT $1 BILLION LAST WEEK TO KEEP THEM GOING.

IT'S NOT EVEN CLEAR THAT'S GOING TO LAST FOR A LONG TIME WITH SUCH A BIG AGENCY, YOU KNOW, 70,000 TRANSIT WORKERS ALONE, NOT TO MENTION ALL OF THE ONGOING PROJECTS WHICH WE HEARD ABOUT SO MUCH, WHICH STILL NEED TO BE FUNDED AND WORKERS STILL NEED TO GET PAID.

LET'S TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU MADE REFERENCE TO.

THE MTA WAS PLANNING TO SPEND $51 BILLION ON INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS, A NUMBER OF THEM.

BADLY NEEDED.

WILL THAT HAVE TO BE SCRAPPED, DO YOU THINK?

THAT IS A BIG MYSTERY.

WE ARE ALL WAITING TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS WITH THIS BIG CAPITAL PLAN.

BEFORE THIS, YOU KNOW, DR CRISI OCCURRED, THE MTA WAS MAKING.

SO BIGGEST PLANS THEY HAVE EVER MADE TO MODERNIZE THE SUBWAYS.

NEW SIGNALS ACROSS THE SYSTEM.

AN ACCESSIBLE STATION WITH ELEVATORS EVERY OTHER STOP FOR FOLKS.

JUST INCREDIBLE STUFF THAT EVERYONE WAS SO EXCITED ABOUT.

THE MTA AND VERY MUCH, YOU KNOW, THE ADVOCACY COMMUNITY BELIEVED THE MTA WAS TURNING A CORNER WITH MODERNIZING ITS SYSTEM.

LIKE YOU SAID, OVER $50 BILLION IS NOTHING TO COUGH AT.

IT WAS ONE OF THE BIGGEST CAPITAL PLANS THEY HAD EVER HAD.

SO THEY WERE OPTIMISTIC THAT THE ECONOMY BWAS GOING TO HUM ALONG NICELY AND TAXES WOULD COME IN AND THEY WOULD BE ABLE TO FUND THIS.

NOW IT'S ABSOLUTELY UNCERTAIN.

EVEN BEFORE THIS, CONGESTION PRICES, WHICH WE GOT PASSED LAST YEAR, WAS SUPPOSED TO GO ONLINE THIS COMING DECEMBER/JANUARY.

THERE IS NO IDEA WHERE THAT STANDS NOW.

BUT IT WAS GOING TO RELY ON A LOT OF THAT MONEY TO FUND THESE PROJECTS.

THERE IS THE INTERNET SALES TAX WITH THE ECONOMY GOING DOWN.

IT'S NOT CLEAR HOW MUCH MONEY IS GOING TO COME IN ANYMORE.

ARE THEY GOING TO SCALE IT BACK, SCRAP IT?

WHICH PROJECTS GO FIRST?

AROUND THE TIME CORONAVIRUS FIRST STARTED THERE WAS SORT OF A COMMITMENT TO, OH YEAH, WE ARE GOING TO KEEP GOING, THIS IS STILL GOING TO HAPPEN, THE ACCEPTABLE STATIONS ARE STILL GOING TO HAPPEN.

NOW IT'S VERY MUCH UP IN THE AIR.

I FEEL LIKE THERE IS A LOT OF UNCERTAINTY AND THE MTA WILL BE HOLDING A BOARD MEETING LATER THIS WEEK WHERE I THINK THEY WILL START TO ADDRESS SOME OF THOSE CONCERNS THAT LOT OF FOLKS ARE HAVING.

WE HAVE ABOUT 20 SECONDS LEFT.

WHAT'S YOUR BEST GUESS?

ARE WE GOING TO BE FEELING THE EFFECTS OF THIS CORONAVIRUS IN THE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM FOR YEARS AND YEARS TO COME?

IT'S VERY LIKELY.

IT'S VERY LIKELY.

IF THEY DON'T MAINTAIN THE SYSTEM, IF THEY DON'T KEEP IT UP, IF THEY DON'T CONTINUE TO IMPROVE IT, WE COULD VERY EASILY SLIDE BACK TO WHERE WE WERE A FEW YEARS AGO WITH BREAKDOWNS CONSTANTLY AND WITH THE GENERAL PUBLIC AFRAID TO RIDE BECAUSE OF CORONAVIRUS FEARS, YOU WILL PROBABLY SEE FEWER RIDERS AT A TIME WHEN RIDERSHIP WAS JUST COMING BACK FROM THE DOLDRUMS WHERE IT WAS BEFORE.

SO WE CAN EXPECT A LOT OF UNCERTAINTY.

ALL RIGHT.

STEVEN, WE WILL BRING YOU BACK TO GIVE US UPDATES AS THIS CRISIS UNFOLDS.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US TODAY.

THANKS A LOT FOR HAVING ME.

Funders

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