COVID-19

Proposed cuts to New York City subway could make life worse for many

Kristin Schwab Aug 31, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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In Manhattan, the subway serves fewer riders than before the pandemic, and the transit authority is suffering financially. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
COVID-19

Proposed cuts to New York City subway could make life worse for many

Kristin Schwab Aug 31, 2020
In Manhattan, the subway serves fewer riders than before the pandemic, and the transit authority is suffering financially. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The New York City transit system is the lifeblood that, before the pandemic, carried roughly 10% of the country’s GDP to and from work every day.

Now it’s facing huge budget problems.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the entity that oversees the city’s subway, buses and commuter rail, is asking for a $12 billion federal bailout. Without it, there will be major and immediate cuts, slashing service by 40%.

Ridership has plummeted during the pandemic, down to a quarter of what it used to be. Still, that’s more than a million people on the train every day. Most of them are essential workers. Service cuts would force people to wait longer for trains.

“They have long, punishing commutes already,” said Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance, a transit riders advocacy group. “The idea of making their commutes much longer is devastating.” He said ridership has actually gone up in boroughs outside Manhattan, where many essential workers live.

Cutting service could also increase their chances of catching the virus because fewer trains and buses could mean more crowding and less social distancing.

And all of this changes what the subway represents: a sort of urban equalizer. Because in the “before times,” stockbrokers, teachers and line cooks crammed into the same space for $2.75 a ride. Now the subway could become something that makes life harder for people who can’t afford alternatives.

“So that means picking your child up later from day care or cutting into your exercise time or preparing a healthy dinner,” said Sarah Kaufman at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

The MTA is also looking at increasing tolls for bridges and tunnels, upping fares and reducing disability ride services.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What does the unemployment picture look like?

It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.

Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?

Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.

How are restaurants recovering?

Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.

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