“This is a matter of national interest and a core part of any national recovery,” the letter said. “Congress must act swiftly to provide real relief in real time; the financial health of the country depends on it.”
The letter came as talks stalled in the Senate over a $2 trillion stimulus bill aimed at softening the impact of the coronavirus on the nation’s economy.
The country’s public transit agencies say they are facing financial hardship because of the outbreak, which has cost them billions in revenue lost from steep ridership declines. Public transportation systems are collectively in the hole nearly $10 billion, according to the American Public Transportation Association. The total includes unanticipated costs for deep cleaning, masks, gloves, sanitizer and disinfectants to protect employees and help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The agencies behind the letter say they represent regions that combined make up 32 percent of the national gross domestic product, and that public transportation will be a crucial part of the nation’s economic recovery after the crisis.
“The economy in our major urban regions nationwide won’t be able to rebound from this crisis without us,” the agencies wrote in the letter addressed to top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. “In fact, we’ll be the shot in the arm needed to beat it — moving nearly 20 million Americans to jobs, school, shops and stores and revitalizing our local economies in the process.”
Some of the agencies are surviving by dipping in to their reserves. Bay Area Rapid Transit, for example, has experienced a nearly 90 percent ridership decline and has had to tap a $50 million reserve fund. New York’s MTA is drawing on a $1 billion line of credit.
The MTA said its budget deficit stands at $4 billion — $3.7 billion of which includes lost fares, while the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has reported ridership declines of between 60 percent and 85 percent, leading to daily losses of $2.5 million — or more than $52 million a month.
“The looming financial catastrophe is clear,” the group said in the letter. “While emergency personnel need our infrastructure to do their jobs, overall ridership on our systems has plummeted every day — dropping as much as 90 percent in some cases. Combined with falling tax revenue and dramatically increased cleaning costs, this collapse of revenue has resulted in immediate and enormous funding gaps.”
They note that they continue to operate, providing an essential service to grocery clerks, supermarket stockers, first responders, doctors and others, while much of the country practices social distancing and remains mostly homebound.
The MTA stressed that the $25 billion was a minimum, pushing back against a $12 billion package already under consideration and supported by members including Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“Anything less than this is a financial catastrophe,” MTA spokeswoman Abbey Collins said.
Collins pointed out that more state and local leaders are considering ordering residents to stay at home and mandating nonessential businesses shut down, which will further drive down ridership.
“Public transit agencies are taking action to address the financial crisis we are all facing,” the letter said. “Scaling back service isn’t enough to keep our operating budgets in the black. And allowing critical state-of-good-repair investments we’ve fought long and hard for to be gutted in favor of operational costs is a non-starter. We need comprehensive, permanent solutions that put public transportation first.”
Luz Lazo contributed to this report.