UPDATE 1-Transportation chief says aid needed by November to avoid big NYC subway and bus cuts

The agency, which runs New York City buses and subways and two commuter railroads that connect the city with suburbs, is losing $200 million in revenue a week and estimates it needs another $3.9 billion in federal aid to get through the end of this year and a total of $10.3 billion through 2021.. Even with congressional negotiations on further federal assistance…

By Axel Threlfall

Sept 3 (Reuters) – New York’s coronavirus-hit MetropolitanTransportation Authority (MTA) will have to start implementing adramatic job and service reduction plan in November if it doesnot receive billions of dollars in federal aid, the agency’schairman said on Thursday.

Speaking in a virtual Reuters Newsmaker event, Patrick Foyesaid the MTA’s upcoming board meeting in November was the cutoffdate for pulling the trigger on a plan to lay off 8,400 workersand cut city subway and bus service by up to 40 percent.

“That is the point at which we would have to beginimplementing the service reductions and layoffs,” Foye said,adding that the MTA would also shelve a $51.5 billion capitalplan to fix and upgrade North America’s biggest transportationsystem.

“If we are not able to make those investments, there will bea deterioration in service, as occurred in New York City in the’70s and ’80s, and we don’t want to go back there,” Foye said.

Foye and John Samuelsen, international president of theTransport Workers Union of America, warned in an opinion articlethis week in the New York Times that the MTA faced a “five-alarmfire” and called on the U.S. Senate to approve funds to save it.

In July, the MTA unveiled a four-year financial plan thatestimated a $16.2 billion deficit by 2024, with more than athird of those losses coming next year, a signal that it doesnot see ridership, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic,rebounding significantly anytime soon.

The agency, which runs New York City buses and subways andtwo commuter railroads that connect the city with suburbs, islosing $200 million in revenue a week and estimates it needsanother $3.9 billion in federal aid to get through the end ofthis year and a total of $10.3 billion through 2021.

In addition to the plunge in revenue, the MTA has had tospend more to clean subway cars, stations and buses to curb thespread of the coronavirus. Subway service, which formerly ranfor 24 hours, was closed down from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to make thatcleaning possible, another hit to ridership.

Even with congressional negotiations on further federalassistance at a standstill, Foye said he still held out hopethat the Republican-controlled Senate would approve additionalfunding for the MTA before the Nov. 3 national election.

“If reason prevails and the national interest is pursued bythe Senate, the Republican leadership in the Senate andWashington, the MTA will be financed,” Foye said.

Foye said he was not optimistic there would be any progressthis year on congestion pricing, a program that charges vehiclesentering Manhattan a fee. The program was supposed to accountfor $15 billion of the MTA’s capital spending plan, but itsrollout has been slowed by the federal government notdetermining what environmental review is needed.

Foye described the withholding of aid from the MTA and theNew York City region as a “punitive” act by Washington, echoingconcerns by cities and states run by Democrats that they arebeing targeted by Republican President Donald Trump.

Foye suggested that the election of Democratic presidentialnominee Joe Biden, who has been a frequent rider on Amtrakpassenger trains and a supporter of public transportation, mightlead to better outcomes for the MTA.

“I believe that he’s got a different view of the importanceof mass transit and public transit,” Foye said.(Reporting by Axel Threlfall; additional reporting by NathanLayne and Tina Bellon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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