The Metropolitan Transit Authority continues to face a multitude of management, operational and fiscal problems.
The ongoing COVID crisis, as well as the lax criminal justice system, cost overruns, delayed project completions, electrical grid failures, closures due to Hurricane Ida flooding, ransomware hackers breaching the MTA’s time-clock provider and never-ending overtime abuses are just a few of the issues the MTA has had to grapple with.
The latest COVID variant, Omicron, is not helping the transit situation. Many private sector employees who had returned to the office are back working remotely at home.
Subway ridership that had recovered somewhat to 50 percent of pre-pandemic numbers dropped to 40 percent in early January.
City COVID regulations requiring COVID vaccination cards to be checked before entering restaurants, I have learned anecdotally, have also kept people from traveling into New York City.
A Park Avenue restaurant I have been frequenting for over 25 years was packed on Thursday nights back in December. But not last Thursday when I dined there. Out of 50 tables, only five had customers.
The MTA’s problem child is the New York City transit system.
Subway crime continues to rise. In November 2021, for example, the daily average robberies increased to 2.9 from 1.3. Major felonies jumped from 3.8 to 7.8.
Total number of robberies in November were 88 compared to 39 in November 2020.
The day after Christmas there was a rash of crimes in the subway system. Four attacks were reported. A subway conductor was attacked, a woman was stabbed, an innocent bystander was pushed onto subway tracks, and gunshots were fired by a man who provoked a verbal dispute with several people waiting for a train.
On Saturday, January 10, a vagrant claiming “I am God and I can do it” shoved a woman to her death in front of an oncoming subway train. The victim was the sixth person thrown onto the tracks in the past 12 months.
Manhattan Institute analyst Nicole Gelinas has reported that “violent crime in the subways is still more than twice as high per rider as it was in 2019. The victims are random, but the perpetrators are not. The same hardcore class of criminals (and untreated mentally ill) just have fewer people underground to prey upon.”
And then there is the issue of fare beaters. Since beat cops were told in 2019 not to pursue them because district attorneys refuse to prosecute, subway fare evasion has more than doubled. In 2020, the MTA reported that 13 percent of riders jumped the turnstile versus 6 percent in 2019. (Some suggest the actual numbers could be as high as 18 percent.)
This phenomenon is costing the MTA annually more than $300 million in lost revenues.
Transit services have been scaled back thanks to the Omicron COVID variant. The New York Times reported on Jan. 7 that “on any given day this week, 21 percent of subway conductors, about 1,300 people—have been absent from work….” In addition, 25 percent of the 12,000 bus operators were out sick.
The work shortage has forced the MTA to reduce subway schedules, to suspend service on three of the system’s 22 lines, and to cut bus schedules by 15 percent.
With subway, bus, LIRR and Metro North ridership expected to be well below pre-pandemic numbers, it is projected that the MTA will lose as much as $500 million in fare-box revenues this year.
And while the authority will fund more than $16 billion in deficits over the next three years with federal grants, those dollars are one-shot revenues that serve as stop-gap measures.
Once the federal funding runs dry, the MTA will face a desperate situation.
This helps explain why a report released by the state comptroller in December, “Capital Needs and the Resilience at the MTA,” noted that “the MTA is the engine that drives New York City’s economy, and it is running on borrowed time.”
Sadly, for the MTA to avoid “going off the rails,” riders starting in 2023 may be forced to pay huge fare and toll increases in return for declining services and maintenance.