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Upbeat MTA budget plan calls for restoring West Hempstead line weekend service

A sign advising potential LIRR riders that weekend

A sign advising potential LIRR riders that weekend service has been eliminated hangs on a ticket vending machine at the West Hempstead LIRR station Saturday morning, Sept. 18, 2010. Photo Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

The MTA, boosted by overperforming revenue, now projects a brighter financial future than it did earlier this year -- despite having to come up with nearly $500 million in 2014 to fund new worker contracts.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Monday released its latest financial plan, which calls for $3.4 million in Long Island Rail Road service enhancements, including the long-awaited restoration of weekend service on the West Hempstead line.

The service additions highlighted a mostly upbeat budget plan that projects 2014 year-end cash balance of $162 million -- nearly $100 million more than the agency predicted in February -- and small surpluses through 2017, a year more than the MTA had been projecting.

MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast said the plan, far removed from the agency's bleak fiscal condition four years ago, is a testament to the MTA's management's disciplined fiscal policy and commitment to "make the hard choices and sometimes make compromises."

"The plan is balanced. It fits within our revenue projections. It will accommodate recent collective bargaining agreements without necessitating any increases to fares and tolls beyond any of those which had already been prescribed," he said.

Chief financial officer Robert Foran said the MTA has benefited this year from several revenue streams breaking the agency's way, including lower-than-expected health, pension and debt-service costs, better-than-expected revenue from fares, tolls and real estate taxes, and other savings.

However, revenue from MTA's payroll mobility tax has come in lower than expected this year and the agency has several new costs, including for safety investments and to fund new labor agreements with LIRR and transit workers.

The new labor pacts -- if adopted by other MTA unions still without contracts -- will add $478 million in labor costs this year alone.

The MTA said it will look to fund the new raises in part by diverting some funds earmarked for retiree benefits and to pay down ongoing capital projects.

Even with the added labor costs, the MTA still plans to add about $20 million in service throughout its agencies. That includes bringing back bi-hourly weekend service -- cut due to low ridership in 2010 -- on the West Hempstead branch in November.

Local elected officials and civic activists along the branch long lobbied to have the service restored, arguing that over the last four years several new commercial and residential developments have since emerged along the line, which carried 685,000 riders last year.

Malverne Mayor Patricia McDonald, who addressed the MTA board during its meeting Monday, noted that the elimination of weekend service also affects West Hempstead riders on holidays and during weather emergencies when the LIRR defaults to a weekend schedule.

"So therefore relatives who want to come out to the village to meet and entertain and celebrate with their families are unable to do that," McDonald said.

Other enhancements include extending seasonal Montauk service by 10 weeks into Thanksgiving and adding cars to crowded trains on the Ronkonkoma, Port Washington, Hempstead, Huntington and Babylon lines.


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