And now, the transit system is facing what MTA Chairman Pat Foye is calling a fiscal apocalypse -- and November could be a make or break month.
"The financial consequences are orders of magnitude worse than during the Great Depression," he said.
Related: MTA in worse shape than during the Great Depression, officials say
The MTA is hemorrhaging money amid the pandemic, an average of $20 million every day by their own estimates.
Three out of four riders on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North have yet to return, and ridership on the subways is down 71% along with a 54% decrease on buses.
The staggering drop in revenue could force drastic service cuts, slashing the number of commuter trains in half and cutting transit service by 40%.
Related: MTA outlines 'draconian' cuts without $12 billion in federal aid
Fewer trains and buses would mean massive layoffs.
For months, the MTA is begging the federal government for $12 billion.
"If we don't get $12 billion, we're going to have to not only cut service, but unfortunately lay off people who acted heroically during the pandemic," Foye said. "We're going to have to lay off thousands of our colleagues."
Related: MTA warns nationwide impact without $12 billion in federal funding
A study by the Rudin Center at NYU estimates that the metropolitan area could lose up to 450,000 jobs without a robust transit system.
"If we make cutbacks now, it's going to weaken public confidence in use of mass transit in such a way that will be much worse when we recover," said Dr. Mitchell Moss, with the NYU Rudin Center. "Because people will have found new ways of getting to work or working at home."
Riders say it's unthinkable.
"New Yorkers don't need any more, any more chaos right now," straphanger Joseph Warner said.
Foye believes that commuters will return to the transit system once the pandemic is declared over, mostly because working remotely stifles creativity and workplace camaraderie.
The question is what kind of transit system will be here when they come back?
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