Service cuts to transit - including changes on Long Island Rail Road and Long Island Bus - moved forward Monday with the majority of Metropolitan Transit Authority oversight committee casting a gut-wrenching vote in favor of sending the proposed cuts to a vote of the entire board Wednesday.
The cuts - expected to save $93 million - are the most recent step as the financially challenged agency looks for ways to deal with lower than expected tax revenue that, transportation officials say, has left the agency with a $400 million budget shortfall. Albany and Gov. David A Paterson have said they do not plan to bail out the agency.
LIRR riders face a number of cutbacks. Proposals include the end of weekend West Hempstead Branch service, a shift in weekday off-peak service on the Port Washington line from half-hourly to hourly, and cancellation and combining of several trains, including during peak hours. Under the proposal, LI Bus would discontinue 11 lines.
"I am torn in pieces about this," board member Doreen Frasca said in emotional speech explaining her vote to move the proposed cuts forward. "I never imagined coming on this board, I would be participating in the degradation of service. I believe there is not a single person on this board that wants to see these service cuts happen."
Riders got some good news last week when proposed cuts were removed by MTA after public outcry from riders, business owners and political leaders. Saved cuts include weekday service between Ronkonkoma and Greenport, and the N88 bus, which travels between Freeport and Jones Beach in the summer.
Committee chairman Andrew Saul said the tough moves now will hopefully put the MTA back on the path to financial solvency.
"Nobody wants to do some of the things that this board is forced to do," Saul said. He said it is not just the public who is going to "take the hit," but there is going to be a tremendous amount of sacrifice happening across the board in ensuring the public gets its "dollar's worth."
Later in the day, board member Mitchell Pally said local board members have met with officials who have agreed to sit down and look at ways to increase ridership on some of the restored lines. "We are going to make every effort and work on it as soon as possible," he said.