New Jersey Transit is pleading for a $1.25 billion bailout from the federal government as its ridership plummets by 88 percent amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“New Jersyans are staying home, heeding the messages of President Trump and [Gov. Phil] Murphy. They are staying off the roads and they are staying off transit,” NJ Transit President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Corbett wrote in a two-page letter to the state’s 14-person Congressional delegation, dated March 19.
“Emergency federal funding is required, so that current programs for capital projects and state of good repair funding are not cannibalized,” he writes.
Corbett continued that as ridership drops, the statewide mass transit agency would lose at least $1.25 billion by the end of the 2021 fiscal year –June 30, 2021 – should things continue their current trend. And the added costs of cleaning have been a bigger drain on the agency’s budget.
But that figure does not factor in potential changes to state aid, such as how much money will flow to NJ Transit from outside sources, Corbett added.
“NJ Transit must continue providing essential public transportation services, and the agency must be on sound footing and ready to provide full and robust service when the current coronavirus emergency subsides and New Jersey’s travel and transportation needs return to normalcy,” Corbett said.
“We are currently looking at efficiencies, however, we cannot overcome the unprecedented financial burden this national emergency has created on our own.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the coronavirus infected 742 New Jersey residents and claimed nine lives. As the largest mass transit agency in the country, NJ Transit serves millions of residents, shuttling them across the state, mostly to New York City.
The March 19 request comes as Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees New York City’s sprawling subway system, presses the government for $4 billion in federal aid due to steep COVID-19-fueled drops in ridership.
“History will be very unkind to our country and our state if we undershoot,” Murphy said at a Wednesday afternoon daily coronavirus press briefing. “There’s no amount of money in any state – New Jersey, New York, California, you name it – there’s no amount of money that can deal with the challenges, the economic challenges, that can come from this.”
Murphy and the state’s congressional delegation have been making a push this week for more federal dollars from the Trump administration, both to plug multibillion dollar holes in the state budget, as well as to cover the sudden loss of income for tens of thousands of businesses, and exponentially more residents.
The former would come in the form of block grants, which have very few restrictions on how they can be used. The latter in the form of a low-interest emergency loan program run by the federal Small Business Administration, which approved the state’s bid earlier Thursday morning.
“Do they [the governor] give us a new budget, do we revamp this budget based on what’s going on? There’s just a whole lot of things we don’t know about right now,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, told reporters at a telephone press briefing following a Thursday afternoon Senate voting session.”That’s really uncharted waters.”
“My priority, as always, will be meeting the needs of New Jersey first,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said in a press call with reporters Wednesday afternoon alongside U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, both New Jersey Democrats. “New Jersey is already spending billions on this crisis and we need to expedite federal reimbursements for the sake of the state’s budget and needs.”
“Over the course of just one week, most of America has gone from business as usual to a virtual shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many sectors of our economy and vital public services, including public transportation systems like NJ Transit, are already feeling devastating effects, and could face long-lasting damage if we stand by and do nothing,” Booker said. “NJ Transit is vital to the economic health of our entire region, and it is imperative that the federal government does all it can to help them through this public health crisis.”
To further advance funding, NJ Transit CEO Kevin Corbett was also among leaders of transit agencies who wrote a letter to Congressional leaders to request that the federal relief package include at least $25 billion of dedicated support for public transportation agencies.
The letter dated March 23 is written to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Leader Kevin McCarthy. They request money because ridership has declined by 90 percent due to COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a national disaster and it requires a national solution. We are coming together to urgently request that the federal relief package include at least $25 billion of dedicated support for public transportation agencies. Federal aid, utilizing federal formulas, must be directed to areas of the country that have had significant financial impacts and where essential workers rely most heavily on public transit.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:01 a.m. EST on March 20, 2020 to include comment from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker. It was updated again at 8:03 a.m. EST on March 24, 2020 to include information regarding a letter to U.S. Congressional leaders requesting funding.