Metro-North is on track to receive $4 billion in federal COVID relief, money that will put off cuts to services and staff.
“This takes layoffs off the table for 2021 and we’re thrilled about that,” said Catherine Rinaldi, president of MTA Metro-North.
Employees said the lifeline is critical.
“Feeding our families again and keeping the economy going, by keeping us employed,” said Carol Kirner, a conductor and union leader.
But questions remain about when commuter passengers will return. That number is down 80% since the pandemic began.
“When will this start to recede and how will it affect work patterns, and will that be permanent? I’m very optimistic to be honest with you,” said Rinaldi.
UNH Adjunct Professor John Rosen said studies show working from home has changed the landscape of commuting.
“The individual, the employee, is on balance happier and, at least in their opinion, more productive at home,” said Rosen.
He said besides cutting out commutes, there are fewer distractions from other employees. And companies are considering hybrid work schedules similar to ones in schools, where employees may report to the office a few times per week.
He expects some people to begin riding the trains again, but it could take years before full commuter numbers come back.
“If I’m MetroNorth or some other big metropolitan transit system that has to worry me a lot,” said Rosen.
Metro-North leaders said they’re hopeful the vaccine will lead to an increase in ridership, and they said they’ve already seen a rise in weekend riders.
“I think after a year of people working in their bedrooms on zoom, they’re going to want to get back together and they’re going to want to collaborate and there is going to be some return to work,” said Rinaldi. “Will it look identical to what it did in 2019? I don’t know yet, I don’t think any of us knows.”