To emphasize the importance of prioritizing support of public transit both in the present crisis and the later recovery period, grassroots movement Riders Alliance launched a #RescueRiders campaign, the initial phase of which involved securing federal funding for the MTA as a part of the relief bill.
“Our first step must be to demand that our leaders in Washington remember riders,” said Riders Alliance executive director Betsy Plum during a virtual rally that kicked off the campaign.
“If we’re going to be bailing out the cruise industry, the airlines and so many other corporate interests,” she continued, “we cannot forget the system that carries millions of passengers every single day.”
The MTA is estimating losses of nearly $125 million per week, resulting from declines in fare and toll collection. But while many New Yorkers stay home in quarantine, roughly 850,000 essential workers are using the city’s subways, buses and paratransit to get to the front lines, according to data from TransitCenter.
Plum and Riders Alliance Campaign Manager Stephanie Burgos-Veras encouraged those still taking public transit to post about their experience on social media using the hashtag “RESCUERIDERS.”
They also urged New Yorkers to contact their federal representatives in support of a $25 billion public transit rescue package as a part of COVID-19 stimulus legislation.
“There is a lot going on, but it is important that elected officials hear our voices now,” said Burgos-Veras. “We’re seeing time and time again that public transit is always left to the side.”
On Friday, President Donald Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, solidifying $4.35 billion in transit funding for New York State. Of that sum, $3.8 billion will be funneled to the MTA.
While the immediate aid is a welcome lifeline for the nation’s most expansive public transit system, experts, including MTA Chairman Patrick Foye, are adamant that much more help is needed.
Advocates worry that as the city emerges from quarantine, the MTA, facing billions of dollars in losses if depressed ridership continues long term, would implement fare hikes and service cuts at the same time that low-income, service-sector, and unemployed workers will need transportation the most.
“We know that public transit is our city’s engine of opportunity,” said Plum. “We need to act today to avoid disastrous consequences for our subways, buses and for our entire city.”
Last week, the MTA announced its “Essential Service Plan,” which scaled back LIRR service by 35 percent and bus service by 25 percent as of Friday. The agency also suspended the B, W and Z subway lines, making changes to express trains as well.
Projecting tremendous losses of their own, state and city governments will most likely be looking toward the feds to ensure a return to full transit service.
"We will keep holding elected leaders accountable for maintaining the services we rely on through this crisis and after,” Plum assures. “In whatever relief comes next, New Yorkers, who make up 38 percent of transit riders nationwide, deserve better than 15 percent of federal transit rescue dollars."