Readers Write: What Coronavirus means for commuters

Readers Write: What Coronavirus means for commuters
Photos Provided by Rivkin Radler
There is good news from Washington concerning funding for public transportation as it relates to the Coronavirus.
The Federal Transit Administration on Friday, March 13, announced that expanded eligibility of federal assistance is available under FTA’s Emergency Relief Program to help transit agencies respond to the virus in states where the governor, such as Cuomo, has declared an emergency.
This includes allowing all transit providers, including those such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority which operates NYC Transit subway, bus and Staten Island Rail Road, MTA bus (routes previously operated by the old NYC private franchised bus operators including Queens Surface, Triboro Coach, Jamaica Bus, Green Bus in Queens County; Command Bus in Brooklyn along with Liberty Lines’ Bronx Express and New York Bus in the Bronx transferred to the MTA in 2005) and Metro-North Rail Road, along with Nassau Inter-County Express bus to use federal formula funds for emergency-related capital and operating expenses.
It also raises the federal share of those expenses.  In 2020, the MTA will receive $1.4 billion in FTA funding. Nassau County, on behalf of Nassau Inter-County Express bus, will receive $16 million.
Expansion of the permissible uses of federal funds will allow transit providers such as the MTA and NICE bus greater flexibility that they need to deal with the virus.
Invoking the eligibility of the Emergency Relief Program also provides funds at a higher federal share within approved grants. They are usually made up of 80 percent federal, 10 percent state, and 10 percent local contributions.
The MTA is counting on Gov. Cuomo, on behalf of the state, and Mayor de Blasio on behalf of NYC, to each, contribute $3.5 billion toward the MTA’s $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan. Both Albany and City Hall need to follow the federal policy and allow the MTA similar flexibility in the expenditure of their respective financial contributions.
In these challenging times, the MTA must reevaluate which capital projects can be postponed until the next five year 2025 – 2029 Five Year Capital Plan.
Delaying the $6.9 billion Second Avenue Subway Phase 2 project should be considered. This would free up between three-to-four billion dollars in local MTA funding for more pressing needs today.
This should be far more than enough to assist in covering unplanned expenditures related to the virus. MTA employee overtime, which can average a billion or more annually, will grow in dealing with far more extensive cleaning to cope with the virus.
Enhanced daily cleaning could go on for months.  Better to spend these funds benefiting the over six million daily riders rather than the far smaller number who would use Second Avenue Subway Phase 2.
FTA actions now allow transit providers to use their federal formula funds for operating expenses in addition to capital expenses and permits operating expenses to be covered at an 80 percent federal share rather than 50 percent. Transit operators can also request temporary relief from many Federal requirements.  Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio need to do the same for state and local requirements impacting the expenditure of their respective  MTA Capital Program contributions.
In these difficult economic times due to the virus, it is important to patronize your local neighborhood restaurants and businesses.  If you are working from home, why not take a short walk or drive for lunch or dinner and eat out?  Do the same for shopping at your local small independent stores.
Now is the time to help our local restaurants and businesses to survive.  If you can afford it, tip 20 percent or more against the total bill, including taxes. If it is an odd amount, consider rounding up to the next dollar. The extra dollar tip will add up for waiters, waitresses, and busboys. If ordering take-out, consider leaving a dollar or two for the waiter or cook. It will be appreciated.
Remember these people are our neighbors. Our local entrepreneurs create employment opportunities.  They work long hours, pay taxes and provide jobs to our fellow citizens. They also serve as eyes and ears for the community, helping to prevent crime. If we don’t patronize our local restaurants and small businesses to shop and dine, they don’t eat either.
As a nation, we will eventually triumph over the Coronavirus even if it takes several months or more.
Larry Penner
Great Neck

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