Save the subways: Why the MTA should be first for any federal bailout
The MTA just sent a red alert to anyone who cares about the city’s future: The agency’s out of cash. Riders and workers will pay a steep price — unless New York’s leaders in Congress (looking at you, Chuck Schumer) act wisely.
At its board meeting Wednesday, MTA officials rolled out a doomsday budget that cuts subway service nearly in half and pink-slips as many as 9,000 transit workers. It’s fallout from a COVID-sparked ridership plunge that sapped much of the agency’s fare revenue.
Yet how are the city and state supposed to recover from their own coronavirus economic mess with mass transit running at half speed? Why would office workers, tourists, businesses and others return if getting around is so problematic?
There’s hope: Much of the pain may be avoidable if Washington comes through with an MTA aid package. The agency needs $12 billion to hold the line.
But that’s a ginormous “if.” For starters, Congress can’t agree on any COVID-related relief bill, let alone one with aid for New York or its transit system. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted Democratic Senate leader Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for refusing to consider any bill that doesn’t include their “far-left ideological wish list.”
Meanwhile, both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are also begging for multibillion-dollar bailouts.
There won’t be enough for everyone.
The MTA deserves first dibs, not just because it’s the least fiscally reckless, but because without well-running transit, the local economy will never get back on its feet — and generate tax revenue to help Cuomo, de Blasio and the MTA.
Which is why Schumer needs to be smart: As McConnell suggests, Dems have to pare down their asks and address just the most urgent needs. And if any aid is to come to New York, it should go to transit.
Schumer & Co. need to make that their top priority. Even if saving the subways is the only thing they can do.