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Subways in Peril: The Perilous State of the Subways: 5 Takeaways

Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Doomsday may fall upon New York City’s subways.

The coronavirus decimated the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s ridership, the state and city are dealing with their own financial emergencies, and a second stimulus plan in the near future from Congress looks unlikely. Not to mention there is a looming Dec. 31 deadline to pass next year’s M.T.A. budget.

What’s left to do when faced with a worst-case scenario? Make deep, painful cuts.

On Wednesday, the agency laid out a proposal that could slash subway service by 40 percent, eliminate some bus routes and cut thousands of jobs if it doesn’t receive $12 billion in federal aid.

[Subway service could be cut if no federal aid arrives.]

Here are five takeaways on the M.T.A.’s doomsday plan:

A second wave of the virus will make matters worse.

Ridership has been stalled at 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels, as riders fear catching the virus while taking public transportation and have been working from home or choosing to drive. Though riding the subway may not be as risky as some New Yorkers believe, the M.T.A. has struggled to lure riders back on the trains.

Virus cases are increasing once again, and an effective vaccine might not be widely available until well into next year. Ridership may not reach 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels before 2024, according to the consulting giant McKinsey & Company.

“We’re going to have to match our service structure and service schedules to equal rider demand. This is just ugly. This, though, is something we have to consider, you know, if we’re going to survive.”

Robert Foran, the agency’s chief financial officer, said at the M.T.A. board meeting on Wednesday.

With a divided Congress, the Biden administration may not be much help.

The M.T.A., which received a $4 billion bailout in an earlier stimulus bill, may not get more federal help if Republicans maintain control of the Senate. While President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is an Amtrak enthusiast and public transit advocate, it’s unclear if Democrats and Republicans will strike a deal on another stimulus measure that includes significant funding for transit agencies.

M.T.A. faces a $16.4 billion deficit through 2024.

“We are fighting very, very hard to get mass transit funding into the next Covid-relief bill.”

Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and the minority leader, told my colleague Christina Goldbaum.

Workers may rebel to ‘make their voices heard.’

Transit officials may cut 9,367 jobs from the transit work force. Union leaders warned that any large layoffs would provoke their members to respond with a work slowdown.

“The New York City Transit work force will correctly view this as the greatest betrayal of their careers. There will be a rank-and-file rebellion, which will lead to chaos.”

said John Samuelsen, the international president of the Transit Workers Union.

M.T.A. cuts would ripple across the city’s economy.

The agency’s financial woes may be disastrous for the region as it recovers from the pandemic. Reduced service could hinder the ability of thousands of residents to commute to work.

The doomsday cuts could cost the region as many as 450,000 jobs by 2022, causing $50 billion in lost earnings, according to a report by the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University and Appleseed, an economic analysis firm. About 25 percent of riders still using the system would ditch public transit if service was cut, according to the N.Y.U. analysis.

Slashing services may lead to a transit ‘death spiral.’

The cuts would happen about the same time as an already scheduled 4 percent fare increase in the spring. If the plan comes to fruition, riders may continue to avoid public transportation because of both unreliable service and pricier MetroCards, even when the virus subsides.

“If the M.T.A. has to make major service cuts, it will kneecap itself. If those cuts come with a fare hike, it will drive even more people from transit, worsening the M.T.A.’s financial picture and hastening the transit death spiral.”

said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group.

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