“Time is running out for New York riders.”

That was the message of Betsy Plum, executive director of Riders Alliance, on Monday, when she, other advocates, public transit riders and elected officials rallied in Bay Ridge for more support of the city’s MTA.

The coalition called on Congress to send federal funds for transit operations to let the MTA add rather than cut service once pandemic aid expires, as federal transportation and infrastructure bills are being negotiated.  

Advocates, riders and elected officials rallied to support the MTA in Brooklyn. Photo: Supplied.

“New Yorkers can’t afford steep cuts to bus and subway lines just as we’re getting back on our feet after the pandemic,” Plum said.

“Instead of austerity, we need our Congressional leaders to recognize public transit’s central role in our communities and invest in more and better service.”

The rally focused on day-to-day operations and riders’ demands for fast, frequent, affordable transit service, and was timed as the U.S. Senate works on a Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which addresses the capital investment backlog of the nation’s transit systems.

Advocates, riders and elected officials rallied to support the MTA in Brooklyn. Photo: Supplied.

Senator Andrew Gounardes said public transit was the lifeline of New York City, and it was a significant driver of economic growth in the city’s communities.

“If we don’t act now, the MTA will face unprecedented fiscal and economic challenges,” he said.

“To avoid fare hikes, service cuts, and job losses, we need the federal government to take action and pass the Stronger Communities Through Better Transit Act to bring home $3 billion for high quality and dependable buses, trains, and paratransit.”

Once pandemic aid expires in two years, the MTA will face a growing, multibillion dollar budget gap, MTA documents show. Last summer, as Congress debated a second round of pandemic aid, MTA officials outlined ‘doomsday’ service cuts of 40-50% that would have saved barely more than $1 billion. With ridership projected to return to only 80% by 2024, the agency needs new revenue to fill the gap, keep fares down, and save frequent bus and train service, the coalition said.

Atlanta Rep. Hank Johnson’s Stronger Communities Through Better Transit Act – which has six New York City congressional sponsors — would create a new $20 billion annual fund to support transit operations nationwide. The MTA, the nation’s largest transit system, could get $3 billion annually, which would mitigate risks to riders and even allow for new investments in better service.

Without aid, the MTA has said it would have to reduce services which would force several million New Yorkers to wait longer, suffer more crowding, and pay more for less would reverse the city’s recovery, dragging down the regional and national economies, the coalition said. Last fall, the Rudin Center found that the ‘doomsday’ slate of service cuts would cost the city half a million jobs.

The advocates, riders and elected officials called on the senators and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, the city’s sole representative on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to “act boldly, deliver the aid required to meet the moment and forge a sustainable federal funding partnership for public transit.”

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