Ridership Down: Watchdog Report Finds that the MTA Fiscal Cliff is Real

Open, Consistent Budget Data Strengthens the MTA’s Case for New State Dedicated Operating Funds

A new Reinvent Albany report, Ridership Down, supports the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) case that it faces a “fiscal cliff” that could obliterate transit service when federal emergency COVID aid runs out. The report concludes that the MTA has no future without billions in new, recurring, state dedicated funding for operations.  

MTA CEO/Chair Janno Lieber recently attended the Somos Conference in Puerto Rico, where he called for legislators to find new sources of revenue for the MTA – the first trip of its kind in recent memory.

“We are glad the MTA is raising the alarm. This really is a looming disaster for transit riders and we urge the MTA to use open, consistent budget data to help strengthen their case for state aid to the public and the legislature,” said Reinvent Albany’s Rachael Fauss, the report’s author.

As of October 2022, MTA monthly transit ridership remains at 65% of 2019 levels. MTA’s consultant, McKinsey, projects ridership reaching only 80% of 2019 pre-COVID levels by the end of 2026. The report includes charts measuring fare revenues and debt service payments, showing how fewer fare dollars can’t stretch far with historically high debt loads and inflation.

The report includes recommendations for the MTA, Governor, and Legislature:

  1. The MTA should continue implementing the MTA Open Data Law, prioritizing publishing open data from the operating budget and capital plans.
  2. The MTA Board should publicly discuss debt affordability statements at their meetings to help emphasize to the riding public how MTA’s historically high debt payments are endangering transit service.
  3. The MTA should only use recurring revenues in its debt affordability metrics. Federal emergency aid should not be counted when measuring debt affordability.
  4. The MTA should report revenue and spending trends over a longer period of time, not just changes from prior financial plans or capital amendments (end the practice of “rebaselining”).
  5. Ridership projections should be updated and publicly released with each financial plan update, not on an ad hoc basis.
  6. Existing NYS transit dedicated funds should be remitted directly to the MTA and other transit systems to protect operating funding from raids by the Governor.  This will strengthen MTA bond ratings and over time reduce MTA’s borrowing costs.
  7. New state dedicated operating funds should also be remitted directly to the MTA. (All MTA contracts and bond issuances should be subject to State Comptroller oversight regardless of how funding is delivered to the MTA.)
  8. The Legislature should use the Outer Borough Transit Fund to improve bus, subway, and commuter rail service, rather than provide toll discounts. 
  9. The Governor and Legislature should reject any attempts to continue the gas tax holiday, which disproportionately benefited high-income individuals and oil companies.

Click here or below to see the full report.