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With Bus and Subway Service in Jeopardy, MTA Looks to Save Money on Cars

An MTA vehicle was parked outside the agency’s lower Manhattan headquarters, July 20, 2020.
An MTA vehicle was parked outside the agency’s lower Manhattan headquarters, July 20, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

On the brink of what the MTA has called a “financial calamity,” the train and bus agency will propose this week cutting $8.5 million from how much it spends on cars, THE CITY has learned.

The proposed savings through 2024 — which would chip away at costs inside a transit agency with a $17 billion dollar annual budget — include reducing its overall motor vehicle fleet size and the number of cars employees can take home. Meanwhile, a planned $3.5 million purchase next year of new vehicles for the MTA Police Department has been deferred.

In 2019, New York City Transit spent $389,751 on expenses for a fleet of 76 vehicles that employees can take home. That includes maintenance, fuel, tolls and parking fees on vehicles that employees use in case of off-hours work emergencies.

“You’ve got to cut that stuff first,” Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of New York City Transit told THE CITY. “You can’t think about service reductions and layoffs and furloughs and work rules — the first thing you have to do is find things like people driving cars who shouldn’t be.”

The planned cuts come as the MTA seeks a second round of nearly $4 billion in emergency aid from the federal government to fill a pandemic-driven drop in revenue from fares, tolls and taxes.

The transit agency is also looking to save up to $1 billion on overtime, consultant contracts and non-labor expenses, according to spokesperson Abbey Collins.

“This is only one small part of those efforts,” she said. “But let me be clear, the harsh reality is that the MTA cannot cut our way out of this crisis.”

‘We Need Federal Action’

Agency leaders have warned that service cuts and layoffs may be needed without billions of dollars more in federal aid — and that the eventual fallout could be worse than the 2010 service reductions.

A decade ago, the MTA eliminated the V and W subway subway lines, 32 bus routes and cut operating hours on 39 local bus routes during an economic crisis that transit officials have said is less severe than the one brought on by the pandemic.

“We need federal action now,” Collins said.

Combined subway and bus trips, on Friday, were under 2.4 million — a nearly 76% drop in ridership from one year earlier on the subway and a 46% decline for buses.

The collapse in revenue has now forced a reexamination of the size of vehicle fleets at MTA agencies.

Sarah Feinberg speaks at the Fulton Transit Center about her appointment as interim New York City Transit president.
Sarah Feinberg speaks at the Fulton Transit Center about her appointment as interim New York City Transit president, Feb. 25, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“That’s not a good look, that’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars,” Feinberg said of the company cars. “And that’s not the message we want to be sending internally or externally.”

Metro-North, New York City Transit and Bridges and Tunnels have all proposed reducing the size of their vehicle fleets, Collins said.

Budget watchdogs noted the cuts won’t amount to much if the MTA doesn’t secure another federal bailout.

“While the MTA should always look at ways to be more cost-effective, efficiencies will never make up for the massive $10 billion dollar expected revenue loss through 2021,” said Rachael Fauss, a research analyst with Reinvent Albany. “Only federal emergency aid is going to be able to stave off possible service cuts and fare increases that would be devastating to the New York City region.”

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