The New York City subway system has confronted numerous challenges since its opening in 1904 such as the 9/11 terror attacks and Hurricane Sandy.
It now faces its worst financial crisis – one that can have an impact on the city for many years to come. As New York City became the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, ridership on subways and buses has decreased by ninety percent.
It is clear that some New Yorkers fear riding in crowded trains and standing near strangers who may or may not have the virus.
This is evidenced by the fact that, even as Governor Andrew Cuomo eased New York City’s lockdown by phases, only a quarter of ridership increased even with New Yorkers returning to work.
As the MTA confronts both economic and public health challenges, the future of the city’s transit system is uncertain.
While the MTA has overcome numerous obstacles throughout its history, it is yet to be seen whether or not it can survive this one.
The MTA’s “Doomsday Plan”
According to the “Doomsday Plan:”
- subway and bus services would decrease by forty percent; and
- train and bus wait times would last longer and would cause crowded trains.
These new changes would heighten the rising fears of New Yorkers who are going back to work on public transportation.
The MTA Needs Money
The MTA needs twelve billion dollars in federal aid to survive through next year and provide service to the thousands of New Yorkers who depend on the transit system to get to work.
Struggling transit systems across the country received $25 billion in emergency aid through the CARES Act back in April.
According to transit operators, the funds will last around six months.
The $1 trillion package introduced by Senate Republicans provides no further emergency aid for transit systems, including the MTA.
According to Patrick J. Foye, Chairman of the MTA, the fate of NYC’s transit system lies in the hands of the Federal Government.
In March, Democrats successfully provided the MTA a $3.9 billion package in the first federal stimulus package
–but that may not be enough to sustain the agency that lost millions of dollars due to the decline of ridership and loss of revenue.
Survival of New Yorker’s Transit System
Once the economy fully reopens, those who do not own cars will rely on the MTA to go to-and-from work.
Although many businesses were shut down when NYC went on lockdown, immigrants and people of color still relied on the transit system.
Cuts made to the MTA budget may prevent projects (like the extension of the 2nd avenue subway into Harlem) from continuing. Delayed services will also impact essential workers such as doctors or nurses as they look for reliable methods of transportation.
Even as the virus surged throughout the city, the MTA continued providing services to essential workers. The system became the backbone that allowed doctors and nurses to save lives during this deadly pandemic.
During this time, the MTA relied on fares and business taxes to stay afloat financially. With thousands of New Yorkers unemployed and ridership plummeting, how will the transit system get any revenue to survive the ongoing pandemic?
Transit workers are predicting the agency will take drastic steps such as raising fares by four percent in order to sustain the MTA.
Politicians Failed the MTA
The obstacle NYC faces today with the pandemic was one that was years in the making.
According to a New York Times report in 2017, the transit system had existing problems politicians chose to ignore for many years.
Rather than focusing on repairing an old train system, politicians allegedly focused on projects that did nothing to improve train service.
In the past two decades, ridership increased to 5.7 million in NYC.
Crowded trains and long wait times have become the norm.
On weekdays, when millions of New Yorkers used the buses or trains to travel to their jobs, only sixty-five percent of trains reached their destinations on time.
When Rudolph W. Giuliani became mayor of New York City in 1994, he cut the MTA’s budget by $400 million. It was the first time a politician has cut budgets on the MTA.
Giuliani was facing a tight budget and wanted to demonstrate leadership without having to raise taxes. After cutting money from the MTA, no drastic changes occurred in the transit system. As a result, future mayors and governors began doing the same.
Pressure to Complete Projects
An assembly speaker and powerful politician in the New York State, Sheldon Silver, focused on renovating the Fulton Street station that suffered damages after the attacks of 9/11.
Instead of using MTA money to fix the subways, Silver pressured the MTA to get the project done. He threatened to stop MTA funding after the project surpassed its $750 million budget in 2008. The renovations of Fulton Street cost the MTA $1.4 billion.
An Uncertain Future
Back in the 1970s, the subway system became a symbol of the city’s urban decay.
With high crime rates and ridership decreasing, the MTA was experiencing a period where New Yorkers did not trust the service.
Trains kept breaking down mechanically and the system was going through a fiscal crisis. Politicians and MTA leaders worked together to invest in the system and fix the issues that plagued New Yorkers.
Although the MTA is the largest urban transit system in the United States and the oldest in the world the agency is facing financial losses like never before.
The subway is owned by the city but it is relying on the federal government to rescue it from a disaster that will impact millions of New Yorkers.
In the last recession New York City faced, there were viruses scaring riders away from taking subways or buses. Trains were and the transit system was able to recover from the recession.
Today, New Yorkers are questioning the survival of a system that may not have been perfect, but was the lifeline that kept the city running.