MTA train

HEADING OFF THE RAILS: A Metropolitan Transportation Authority plan that would cut more than 8,200 jobs in the transit system while slashing service by 40 percent left union leaders outraged, saying it was a shabby way to treat workers who risked their health to keep trains and buses running during the pandemic and would also disproportionately hurt residents in city neighborhoods where the toll has been highest. They hinted at possible job actions if the reductions were approved by the MTA board next month.

A "doomsday" financial plan floated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Nov. 18 was pronounced dead on arrival by the leaders of the Transport Workers Union, with one predicting "all hell will break loose" if it cuts more than 9,300 jobs, 8,238 of them from New York City Transit.

The proposal, which the MTA said was necessitated by a $12-billion budget deficit caused by sharp drops in ridership due to the coronavirus, would include a 40-percent cut in subway service and a 50-percent gash to commuter-rail operations.

The agency is set to finalize its 2021 budget next month.

In addition to NYC Transit cuts that account for 88 percent of the planned jobs reduction, MetroNorth, the Long Island Rail Road and MTA Bridges and Tunnels are targeted to lose 1,129 jobs.

Samuelsen Goes Biblical

"If the MTA tries to execute these cuts, all hell will break loose on them," John Samuelsen, president of the Transport Workers Union of America, warned during a phone interview. "This workforce has already been through a meat-grinder to keep this city running even in the midst of our 100 co-workers dying from COVID-19. There will be a massive state of rebellion, and it won't just be the TWU, because we will be coordinating a fight-back strategy engaging all the unions across the system."

TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano called the threatened job cuts "an outrageous and cowardly surrender to the coronavirus, and a slap in the face of every transit worker" and called for management to withdraw the plan. "Go back to the drawing board and come up with real solutions. Tossing thousands of workers onto the street and leaving entire neighborhoods without service are not answers."

He suggested ending the rebate of a tax on stock transfers, increasing the gas tax, "getting rid of high-priced consultants and contractors, replacing cleaning contractors with in-house forces and offering retirement incentives."

For months the transit agency has warned that without a $12-billion infusion of aid from Washington it would be forced to make draconian service cuts to make up for revenue losses based on huge drops in ridership caused by the coronavirus.

Zero for 'HEROES'

A compromise stimulus package of $2.2 trillion in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions [HEROES] Act passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives last month but was opposed by Senate Republicans and got no support from President Trump.

It's not clear whether Congress will revisit the bill before the end of the year, despite a dramatic resurgence of the virus across the country in almost every state. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he won't go beyond $500 billion in relief, and Democrats are unwilling to settle for an amount they say won't come close to addressing the problem.

Democrats' hopes of gaining control of the U.S. Senate hinge on two George Senate runoffs Jan. 5 in which the incumbents are both Republicans.

With no Federal aid imminent, MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran told the board at its Nov. 18 meeting that the agency faced almost $16 billion of accumulated deficits through 2024.

"We now project a $2.492 billion deficit for this year, a $6.1 billion deficit in 2021, $3.6 billion in 2022, almost $1.8 billion in 2023 and almost $2 billion in 2024," he said.

Ridership Still Down

In July, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company projected that it would not be until February 2023 that the transit system would regain pre-pandemic ridership and revenue. The MTA is now anticipating it will regain only 71 percent of those numbers by then. Officials maintain they have no choice but to "prepare for the worst" and focus on "right-sizing for the new normal."

Mr. Samuelsen, a nonvoting member of the MTA board, warned his colleagues that the reductions in service "disproportionately targeted New York City" and would "disproportionately impact communities of color and essentially the working poor."

MTA CEO and Chairman Patrick Foye told the board he wanted to "desperately avoid" doing anything to "hurt our heroic employees" who kept the city running during the worst of the pandemic. But with Republicans likely to maintain their U.S. Senate majority, he said, it was likely that their opposition to significant Federal aid to mass transit would prevail.

Referring to President-elect Joe Biden, who during more than three decades as a U.S. Senator commuted daily between Washington and his home in Delaware by rail, Mr. Foye added, "Their indifference to the future of mass transit in this country has been an infuriating roadblock, but we are cautiously optimistic that Amtrak Joe might help clear it so that we might be able to continue our core business of moving New York." 

After the board meeting, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli warned the MTA's regional transit system was "on the edge of a precipice."

"Without a significant infusion of federal funds, the region faces service cuts in 2021 that would change public transit as we know it," Mr. DiNapoli said in a statement. "It's too late for federal help to assist the MTA this year, forcing it to borrow almost $3 billion to get through 2020 and saddling it with even more debt in the coming years."

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