MTA: Half-hourly weekend LIRR service restored

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The MTA Monday detailed its plan to put back much of the service it cut during its financial crisis three years ago, including restoring half-hourly weekend service on the Long Island Rail Road's Port Washington line.

More than $40 million in service enhancements are coming as part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's midyear operating budget update. In addition to restoring some of the 2010 cuts, the MTA plans to implement new service where needed, including, for the first time, half-hourly Ronkonkoma trains on weekends.

"We have listened to our customers, and we are responding with more bus, subway and commuter rail service as well as enhancements to make that service more reliable and more enjoyable," MTA chairman and chief executive Thomas Prendergast said.

In addition to Port Washington and Ronkonkoma weekend service improvements, the LIRR also will add evening rush hour trains on the Ronkonkoma and Babylon lines, a new off-peak Hicksville train, and extension of weekend service to Greenport by 10 weeks. Since 2010, Greenport weekend service has only been offered from Memorial Day weekend until Columbus Day.

The LIRR will phase in the service additions beginning September, starting with the addition of half-hourly Ronkonkoma service on weekends. All changes will be in place by March, the MTA said.

LIRR president Helena Williams said the service restoration that customers asked for the most was the return of half-hourly service on the popular Port Washington line. The LIRR last year added back half-hourly service on weekday middays and almost immediately saw a sizable increase in ridership.

"We're very excited about the opportunity to improve service, and we really look forward to rolling that out for our customers," Williams said.

Other MTA service improvements will include more frequent and expanded service on some subway lines, including the G and M trains, and on some city bus routes.

In 2010, facing an $800 million budget shortfall, the MTA enacted the deepest service cuts in the agency's history to save about $100 million per year. But through internal belt-tightening -- projected to total $1.3 billion annually by 2017 -- and biannual fare hikes, the MTA has stabilized its finances in recent years. That allowed the agency to restore about $29 million in service last year.

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When the state budget earlier this year increased transit aid by $40 million, board members Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, and Allen Cappelli, of Staten Island, proposed putting the found money toward service restorations."For the second year in a row, the state has invested in significant enhancements and expansions to our state's transit system that will improve the experience of the eight million commuters who use the MTA," Cuomo said in a statement.

Transit advocates yesterday praised the service improvements, even while warning of the need to overhaul the state's funding strategy for the MTA.

"Just because there's no crisis right now doesn't mean we can let up on pushing for a stable and rational funding scheme for the MTA," said William Henderson, executive director of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, which includes the LIRR Commuter Council. "The basic fact is that a lot of these service restorations that have been proposed today and made in the past should have never been necessary."

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