The contrast in headlines is stark. At the Long Island Rail Road, 11 mechanics earned more than $100,000 each in overtime last year. While at Able-Ride, bus service for many disabled riders is being eliminated, due to budget cuts. Both agencies answer to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The MTA has been trying to chip away at overtime - which topped $500 million last year - to help free the cash it needs for vital services. Able-Ride needed $900,000 to continue full operation through the end of 2010, but the money isn't there, and some services began shutting down this week. Why are overtime costs so high? Some wacky work rules are partly to blame:

An LIRR engineer receives a full extra day's pay for operating both a diesel and an electric train during the same shift.

Only on Long Island Bus do drivers work part time during heavy morning and afternoon commutes. Bus drivers elsewhere in the MTA are paid for the hours in between - even if they're not working.

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Employees receive overtime after working beyond their daily shift, even if they haven't logged 40 hours that week.

The MTA must continue in its efforts to negotiate better work rules to control costs. The agency's budget problems are resulting in sacrifices from too many who can't afford it. hN