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As millions of Americans work from home and avoid going out because of the coronavirus pandemic drags on, public transit systems feeling the pinch across the country are asking the federal government for a bailout that could be in the billions.
Government officials have told Americans in an attempt to slow the outbreak to avoid groups of more than 10 people and the elderly to stay home while a pointed reminder was given to millennials to follow the guidelines and avoid social gatherings.
As officials throughout the country have urged people to work from home, ordered restaurants to only offer take-out and delivery options, and closed schools, the nations' public transit agencies have recorded a precipitous drop in ridership.
In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority runs New York City's subway, bus, and two commuter railroads that shuttle riders to the suburbs in Long Island and points north of the city. People following the advice of medical experts to stay home has left the agency in a self-described "financial calamity."
According to recent ridership reports, ridership has fallen by 60 percent on the subways, 49 percent on buses, 90 percent on Metro-North and 67 percent on Long Island Rail Road.
On Wednesday, the MTA shared that it only logged 1,785,252 riders on the city's subway system. One year ago, on March 17, 2019, there were some 5,568,464 straphangers.
"3.7 million of you chose not to ride with us yesterday because you want to #flattenthecurve," the agency said. "We miss you, but for now, we’ll say: thank you for not riding with us. You’re keeping NYC safer."
Riders staying home have caused revenue to also take a nosedive. The MTA said that it's kept service levels running to provide "essential services," but that the full impact from the COVID-19 will be in the ballpark of over $4 billion by the end of 2020, which doesn't even account for "the expected collapse of the more than $6 billion in state and local taxes dedicated to the MTA."
MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye on Wednesday said the agency is drawing down $1 billion on its existing line of credit as it works to service in an essential role to help make sure to move "medical professionals, first responders, transportation workers, child care workers, and essential personnel on the frontlines protecting New York."
But Foye said the emergency funds are not enough, as the agency counters a "fiscal cliff."
"Let's be clear: These funds, while important in providing liquidity, are not a comprehensive or permanent solution," Foye said in a statement. "This a national disaster that requires a national response and we are urgently requesting the federal government provide more than $4 billion in federal funding to ensure the financial health of the MTA. We cannot afford to wait."
At a news conference on Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the agency has "lost tremendous revenues" and that as a nation, "we're all going to have to figure out how as a nation to deal with this.
"The MTA will continue running, they're an essential service, on the essential service list and the revenues, we're going to have to make due," the governor told reporters.
In the nation's capital, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a letter on Wednesday to 12 members of the Senate and House who represent the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia that Metro has lost about 85 percent of its ridership as it decreased service in the past week.
Wiedefeld said the agency has purchased "critical items" and "personal protective equipment" while expanding the use of disinfectants for increased cleaning of Metro vehicles and equipment, which has totaled $17 million over the past several months.
The resulting drop in ridership and revenue with other increased costs have left the agency with a budget deficit of at least $52 million a month, he wrote.
“Federal assistance is critical to help us offset the direct costs and revenue losses we are facing,” Wiedefeld said. “We need support for transit operations, but traditional transit formulas are not designed to address our unique circumstances. We need immediate operating funding to address this unprecedented loss of $52 million a month."
Combined losses from fares and parking revenue will cost BART some $37 million a month, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Officials in the Seattle area have reduced some service on King County Metro, and Sound Transit said that in keeping with social distancing measures, the agency has directed its fare enforcement officers to limit hand-to-hand, close interactions between fare enforcement officers and passengers.
"Until further notice, fare enforcement inspectors will not ask for proof of payment on board Link light rail or Sounder trains," the agency said.
Riders, however, are still expected to pay the required fare before boarding, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
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Groups such as the American Public Transportation Association, which represent a large number of public transit systems, are now calling for Congress to give public agencies and passenger railroads some $12.9 billion to offset costs and revenue during the outbreak.
"Public transportation organizations are taking extraordinary efforts to protect the health and safety of riders and employees while working tirelessly to maintain essential services," APTA officials said Tuesday in a legislative alert to member agencies.
The number requested by the group includes some $1.75 billion in direct costs, $6 billion to cover lost farebox revenue, $4.9 billion in dedicated sales tax revenue loss anticipated over the next six months and $250 million in restart costs.
"These funds are necessary to maintain essential services, including providing public transportation to health care workers, Medicaid recipients who receive non-emergency medical transportation, and law enforcement personnel," the group said. "Without these emergency funds, public transit agencies may be required to suspend services."
Fox News' Tamara Gitt and Courtney Crawford contributed to this report.