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New York subway chief on coronavirus: Federal aid for MTA is 'a matter of national urgency'

Adriana Belmonte
·Senior Editor
·4 min read

New York City is currently the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 100,000 cases, accounting for roughly 20% of the U.S. total.

Subway ridership in New York City, meanwhile, is down 92% as residents largely stay at home. Consequently, the New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) could see over $4 billion lost in revenue from the ridership plunge and billions more lost in lost state and local taxes dedicated to the MTA.

MTA Chairman Pat Foye told Yahoo Finance that the the transit organization has received nearly $4 billion from the federal government so far and expects more federal aid will be needed.

“This is really a matter of national urgency,” Foye said. “The nearly $4 billion that the MTA received [is] quite important, but we’re going to require more. The MTA will do its part in terms of controlling expenses.”

A subway rider wears a glove while holding a pole as several riders wear face masks during the coronavirus outbreak on the D train in the Brooklyn borough of New York on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (AP Photo/David Boe)
A subway rider wears a glove while holding a pole as several riders wear face masks during the coronavirus outbreak on the D train in the Brooklyn borough of New York on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (AP Photo/David Boe)

New York City’s transportation system is among the busiest in the country: 8% of the U.S. GDP in Q3 of 2019 came out of New York State, trailing only California and Texas, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Between commuter rails, buses, and subways, the MTA’s annual ridership is over 2.6 billion, with over half of that just on the subways.

“I think it’s fair to say that the MTA is [not only] critical to the New York region, but also to the national economy,” Foye said. “Well over a trillion dollars of economic activity comes out of New York City and the New York State region.”

The transportation chief added that “the success and vitality of the MTA is important not only to New York City and New York State and the entire downstate arrangement... but it’s also a matter of national importance, in terms of the high-paying jobs that in normal times will pay lots of taxes, including to the federal government.”

There are over half a million coronavirus cases in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
There are over half a million coronavirus cases in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

‘It’s a very unusual situation for a public transit agency’

Foye acknowledged that the MTA is in a unique situation: The agency’s main message to the public is to stay home and not ride the subways unless it is essential, despite the fact that this affects the MTA’s bottom line.

“It’s a very unusual situation for a public transit agency to urge people not to ride,” Foye said, adding that “in the middle of a pandemic, it’s the right thing. … Obviously, it’s not a good thing from a ridership or revenue point of view, but we’re going to continue to try to minimize the number of people on subways and buses and commuter rails during the duration of the pandemic.”

The goal is for only essential workers to be using public transportation, in order to get to and from their destinations without being exposed to more people than necessary.

“At this point, we are taking utility workers and transit workers, health care professionals, people working in supermarkets and pharmacies, the people who are in the process of saving and caring for New York,” Foye said. “Our customers are those first responders and essential employees, and MTA workers, subways, buses, Metro-North, and Long Island Railroad are getting that done.”

NEW YORK, USA - MARCH 11: A man wears a face mask and surgical gloves to prevent Covid-19 spread, at the New York City subway train in New York, United States on March 11, 2020. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - MARCH 11: A man wears a face mask and surgical gloves to prevent Covid-19 spread, at the New York City subway train in New York, United States on March 11, 2020. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Foye is one of more than 7,000 transit employees who have either tested positive for the coronavirus or in quarantine. In quarantine, he described his symptoms as “mild.” As of April 10, at least 50 of these employees have died from the virus and service is increasingly disrupted.

“It’s not about me,” Foye said. “I appear to have a mild case, but some of my colleagues and New Yorkers are really suffering.”

Adriana is a reporter and editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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