Public transit systems from New York City to Washington, D.C., face major cuts if the federal government does not get aid to local municipalities soon.
With ridership down 76% across the country, public transit systems from New York City to Washington, D.C., face major cuts if the federal government does not get aid to local municipalities soon. (Shutterstock)

Services could be slashed dramatically in cities big and small if Congress doesn’t help local governments. That will make an already hard situation even worse for millions of Americans.

Washington, DC’s metro system is facing massive cuts as it struggles to make ends meet and help from the federal government is still tied up in an unending impasse over the stimulus details. 

Metro rail officials are considering drastic cutbacks like eliminating weekend service, thousands of layoffs, and slashing its bus service as it grapples with a nearly $500 million deficit. 

Washington’s transit service is hardly the only one facing massive potential cuts. After months of incredibly low revenue and ridership, transit departments across the country are rapidly approaching a financial cliff. Ridership on public transportation has taken a nosedive as many commuters swap office buildings for home setups, and others are reluctant to set foot on trains and buses for fear of the coronavirus. Across the country transit ridership has declined 76% when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

New York City is facing a $16.4 billion deficit through 2024, and without emergency funding, the agency would need to implement major cuts. For instance, New York City transit officials proposed a 40% cut in subway service, a 50% cut in commuter rail service, and the elimination of numerous bus routes across the city. 

Without a robust public transit system, major cities like New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, and Washington would risk collapse. Public transit has been the backbone of many large and midsize cities across the country. For instance, without it New York City could see a loss of as many as 450,000 lost jobs across the metropolitan area and across industries, according to the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation and Appleseed. 

Metro officials in DC said their budget proposal was not another of many warnings major transit offices have signaled to Congress. Instead, they said, the cuts are part of a realistic spending plan based on what the transit office can control. 

Major transit hubs across the country have repeatedly called for help from Congress. If lawmakers are able to pass a stimulus package that would allocate emergency funding to transit agencies they might be able to avoid the worst of the large scale service cutbacks. 

After months of start-and-go negotiations over the next round of stimulus packages an actual consensus is still far off. On Tuesday, a group of bipartisan senators introduced a stimulus proposal with around $908 billion in total funding. Although the proposal is still far less than many House democrats have called for, the lawmakers explained that it could serve as a template for legislation that could be signed into law. 

“Our action to provide emergency relief is needed now more than ever before. The people need to know we are not going to leave until we get something accomplished,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III at a press conference Tuesday. “I’m committed to seeing this through.”

Lawmakers are facing increasing pressure from constituents, cities and towns, and now transit authorities to pass emergency funding.

The proposal on Tuesday would provide $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits for four months, $160 billion in funding for state and local governments, and a temporary moratorium on some coronavirus-related lawsuits. The proposal has elements to satisfy both Republicans and Democrats, but still faces major barriers. 

While talking to reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, President-elect Joe Biden declined to say whether he supported the new proposal but encouraged lawmakers to come together and take action. 

“Right now, the full Congress should come together and pass a robust package for relief to address these urgent needs. But any package passed in a lame-duck session is likely to be, at best, just a start,” Biden said