The MTA isn't letting anything like a four-alarm fiscal tsunami get in the way of police hires.
Even as the transit agency faces a debt crisis that will stretch out over multiple years, MTA Chairman Pat Foye told reporters on Wednesday that the plan to hire more than 300 new police officers is only on hold, but would not be scrapped.
So far, 168 officers have been hired, while the remaining cops are awaiting the end of the agency's hiring freeze, Foye said after Wednesday's MTA Board meeting.
The promise to hire more cops comes as the agency has cut 3,000 jobs since April, 2019, and laid out a series of initial spending cuts that it said would save $235 million this year. But cops, Foye said, are too essential to cut.
"Part of providing transportation is providing a safe and secure environment, that's part of what police do," he said before calling "troubling and concerning."
The MTA's crime statistics show that there have been 143 fewer major felonies committed on the subway and Staten Island Railway this year, a 12-percent drop compared to January through June last year. That said, bus drivers have reported numerous assaults by riders this year after the drivers asked them to wear masks on the bus.
But with the agency facing a deficit of as much as $16 billion through 2024 and no sign of federal aid on the horizon, advocates say that extra police have no business in the MTA's budget.
"The Board should be figuring out how to remove this line from the budget and devote those funds to transit service," said Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein, "but that order needs to come from Gov. Cuomo. This was his project and he needs to stop it." (The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment when asked if Cuomo would support a rollback of the police hires.)
The future is extremely grim for the MTA without a badly-needed infusion of federal money, as demonstrated by the Riders Alliance's own doomsday scenario subway map. The transit advocates suggested that filling a $4 billion hole with service cuts would result in a subway map without the 1, 2, 3, 7, B, D, F, M, G, J, and Z lines and the Franklin Avenue S and leave huge amounts of the city without any subway service at all.
And according to a Riders Alliance analysis done last year, if the MTA repurposed the $249 million police budget for subway service, the agency could run 15 percent more off-peak service. Pearlstein said that the MTA couldn't justify creating a new class of subway and bus police while potentially massive service cuts were a possibility in the future.
"The important thing is that there should not be a new subway and bus police force. These areas are public spaces in the city, and the NYPD, for all their issues, deal with public space in the city. Additional police shouldn't be drawing away from transit service, but it does because it's all part of the same budget," said Pearlstein.