Senate bill could bail out MTA

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A plan to bail out financially troubled public transportation systems could lead to the restoration of some service cuts on the Long Island Rail Road, federal lawmakers said Tuesday.

The Public Transportation Preservation Act, introduced on Capitol Hill Tuesday by Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, would give $2 billion in emergency aid to help transit agencies pay their operating costs. Officials said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's share of that $2 billion would be about $250 million.

"Mass transit is the very lifeblood of Long Island, and our ability to rebuild the economy and get people back to work is linked to a fully funded and affordable system," Schumer said Tuesday. "In a time of crisis, when funding for mass transit has collapsed and caused severe service cuts, layoffs and looming fare hikes, it is essential that we take strong action to ensure that middle-class families on the Island can afford to use public transit."

A condition of receiving any money from the plan would be that a transit agency use the funds to restore service cuts and stave off future fare hikes.

That could include restoring several LIRR trains that were canceled last week in the first round of service cuts this year. Further cuts are expected in September, including the elimination of weekend service to West Hempstead and Greenport and the reduction in weekday off-peak service on the Port Washington branch from half-hourly to hourly.

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"We support the bill and hope it passes," MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.

A Schumer spokesman said it was not yet clear when the bill would be put to a vote or whether the bill would be part of a larger package of legislation. William Henderson, executive director of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said it was "encouraging" to see federal lawmakers get involved in the MTA's ongoing fiscal crisis.

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