The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), a notoriously mismanaged and wasteful agency is facing an apocalyptic fiscal crisis despite a $4 billion cash injection as part of the most recent Covid-19 relief package. The cash saves the MTA from making brutal service cuts, but the financial crises still loom.
Under this backdrop, the MTA board must decide whether or not to approve a 4 percent increase in fares and tolls (which are implemented every two years). The $17 billion budget for 2021 assumes the increase. Were the increase to be approved, there is still an estimated budget deficit of almost $500 million, with an $8 billion shortfall through 2024. Shortfalls also assume planned 4 percent increases on fares and tolls in 2021 and 2023.
Ordinarily, such a vote would be pro forma, but these are certainly not ordinary times. Board members are concerned about New York City’s high unemployment rate as well as fears that raising fares will cause even fewer people to use the system. Ridership has returned to only a quarter of usual levels after plummeting by 90 percent during the worst of the pandemic. Projected revenue shortfalls are $4.2 billion from fares, $880 million from tolls, and $2.1 billion from subsidies (Expect the Biden Administration Along with a Democratic-led Congress to enhance subsidies to struggling transit agencies).
The New York State Thruway already increased tolls to begin 2021 and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently increased tolls as well. It is refreshing to see members of the MTA board understand the financial hardship of customers, yet inexplicably there are those who still push for congestion pricing, despite the fact that we have no idea what Midtown will look like post-Covid (it certainly isn’t congested during the pandemic). People and small businesses are suffering and there are no more nickel and dimes to shake out of them.
The people of New York deserve a world-class transit system but continuously raising tolls and fares without meaningful structural and organizational change prevents that. The post Covid-19 world requires new ways of thinking. New Yorkers must not be forced to contribute more and more of their reduced income to this mismanaged and wasteful behemoth. The MTA needs to be completely reorganized, structured and funded.