- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2020

Mass transit systems from coast to coast are drumming the same tune: They need a congressional bailout and they need it now.

D.C. and San Francisco are threatening cuts, and New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest transit system in the nation, is in line, too.

And yes, they’re all there because COVID-19 led officials to force businesses, museums and schools to close, and recreational activities to be drastically cut.

Now the very same people who made those drastic mandates are begging for money — a helluva lot of money.

Consider, please, the Big Apple. Federal lawmakers allotted $25 billion for transit agencies, including the MTA and the D.C.-area Metro, earlier this year.

Of the $25 billion, the MTA got $4 billion. The money, New York officials say, helped them avoid drastic cuts in 2020. But you know, New York is the biggest big dog of all the agencies, so it’s barking for mo’ money.

New York is requesting $12 billion from the feds, arguing that it needs as much to carry the transit agency through potential losses through 2024.

Thinking prudently ahead, yes? Uh, no.

Let me let you in on the skinny.

According to DigitalSignal.com, the MTA’s bill for 2021 is “$11.2 billion in labor costs for 73,695 employees, which means a whopping $151,693 per person. That’s more than twice the average private sector cost per employee of $74,797.”

Sweet. And here you thought the tough guys of New York were mayors and mob bosses.

Think again. Unions and collective bargaining agreements are the big dogs.

Now, believe me. I am hardly anti-union. Thing is, because of the pandemic, everybody’s barking at the same time.

All the unions. All the unemployed. All the industries. All the small businesses. All the truly needy. All nations that depend on America’s governmental generosity.

So, let’s get real.

If far fewer people are using the rails, buses and public commuter options — and they are in urban and rural areas alike — then now is the time to use Plan B.

Put the kibosh on wishful thinking. Marry reality to, well, the foreseeable.

Nobody — not Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, not D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, not the Democrats, not the Republicans and the economists — has a crystal ball to show what 2021 will look like.

The D.C. regional Metro says it’s facing a nearly $500,000 budget shortfall, and its board again considers this week cuts to personnel, rail and bus service. Metro also wants another federal lifeline tossed its way.

Yet, it never ends.

That means Metro, MTA and the other transit agencies, and the local, state and federal authorities who control public coffers, must find ways to replace the red Sharpies with black ones. And to accomplish that they need to cut spending ASAP.

That is the reality.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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