MTA implements ‘essential service’ plan as ridership drops dramatically

Legislative Gazette file photo

The MTA’s implementation of the NY Essential Service Plan has cut service significantly to match declining ridership and follow public health guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The schedule change follows the “New York State on PAUSE” executive order, which directed New Yorkers to limit their use public transportation and limit their potential exposure to the virus by staying home and keeping a distance of six feet from others. 

As a result, the MTA is now facing a “financial calamity.” Farebox and toll revenue, which normally constitutes half of the MTA’s budget – approximately $8 million – has dropped significantly as riders stay home. In addition, it is projected that more than $6 billion in state and local taxes dedicated to MTA funding is likely to “evaporate in the inevitable economic shutdown.”

Despite the limited service, New York City Transit, MTA Bus Company, Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Railroad will continue to disinfect each of their stations twice a day and continue daily sanitization of its train cars and buses, with the full fleet disinfected every 72 hours or less. The Access-A-Ride fleet, for those with disabilities, is disinfected daily. 

This disinfecting effort is estimated to cost more than $300 million on an annual basis. 

In response to the crisis, the MTA is asking Congress to include at least $25 billion in funding for mass transit to ensure transit systems across the country can continue operating and serve as a way for economic growth to happen in local economies.

“The MTA is committed to getting the heroes who keep this city moving where they need to go,” MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye said. “The dramatic decrease in ridership shows our customers are continuing to follow the advice of health professionals to keep themselves and others safe. But we’re here for the critical workers and first responders.”

The “NY Essential Service Plan” includes a number of different measures in an effort to smoothly transition to the new schedules while still helping first responders and other essential personnel get to work.

On March 25, some subway lines running Monday through Friday, including the B, W and Z lines, were shut down. These lines are now covered by other local services. Some express services are now operating on a local service schedule. Subway ridership is down 87 percent compared to this time last year.

On March 26, buses began working on a 75 percent normal service schedule, allowing the MTA to serve essential workers while lessening crowding on transit. Buses have experienced a 60 percent drop in ridership compared to dates last year. 

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) began running on 500 weekday trains, compared to the usual 740 trains per day, as on March 27. Since the pandemic began, there has been a 76 percent drop in ridership on the LIRR. 

Metro-North is now providing hourly service on the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven lines, with extra trains added during peak times. Weekday capacity has been reduced by approximately 50 percent compared to normal schedules. The reduced schedule is running 424 trains, down from the usual 713 trains. 

Starting on the weekend of April 4, Metro-North will provide hourly service while also suspending shuttle service between Wassaic and Southeast on the Upper Harlem line. Since the pandemic, there has been a 94 percent drop in ridership on the Metro-North line. 

The paratransit program, which usually is a shared-ride, door-to-door service has eliminated shared rides in accordance with the recommended public health guidance. However, eligibility for existing Access-A-Ride customers has been extended. Demand for the paratransit system has declined by 71 percent from earlier this month.

“The 50,000 brave men and women of New York City Transit will continue moving essential employees and keep them safe during this public health crisis,” NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg said. “The MTA Essential Service Plan is in the best interest of these workers and will keep the first responders, healthcare workers, child care workers and many more on the front lines of this crisis moving forward.”