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MTA chief: Cuts mean 'pain' for everyone

An LIRR train going to Penn station prepares

An LIRR train going to Penn station prepares to pull out of the station in Syosset. (Feb. 23, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

There will be "pain involved" for riders of trains, buses and subways and for MTA workers under a plan to lay off more than 1,000 employees and cut service to close a $378-million budget gap, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Jay Walder said Wednesday.

"I truly don't see any other choice," Walder said during a Manhattan meeting of the MTA board. "It's going to be a very difficult year for all of us."

At the Long Island Rail Road, some 90 administrators and 60 engineers and conductors would lose their jobs as a result of administrative job cuts and reduced train service. The MTA will hold a public hearing on proposed LIRR cuts at 6 p.m. Monday at Chateau Briand, 440 Old Country Rd. in Carle Place.

Proposed LIRR service changes include ending service between Ronkonkoma and Greenport except on summer weekends; cutting weekend service on the West Hempstead branch; reducing weekday off-peak service on the Port Washington branch from half-hourly to hourly, and cutting service to the station at Belmont Park except during the Belmont Stakes in June.

Wednesday, Walder described the LIRR cuts as "back office."

Walder, who took over leadership of the MTA in September, told reporters after the meeting, "We have to find a way for the MTA to live within the limited means available to it."

The MTA has about 70,000 employees. It plans to save $50 million by eliminating 1,100 workers across all its agencies. The cuts include more than 600 administrative staff and as many as 500 NYC Transit station agents.

Walder blamed a shortfall in the so-called "mobility tax" - a levy on employers in the MTA's 12-county service area that was imposed last year and was supposed to fix the MTA's budget troubles - for adding to the agency's financial woes.

The tax has generated $378 million less than predicted, Walder said. That shortfall is in addition to a $383-million deficit in the MTA's budget that was passed in December, meaning the MTA has to make up a total of $761 million, Walder said.

"We've been forced to deal with one financial crisis after another," said Walder. "I sometimes feel like we're running up the down escalator."

Making New York City school students pay for MetroCards is another change aimed at saving money. Free MetroCards for students equals $214 million a year in revenue currently not captured by the MTA, Walder said.

New York City and New York State should pay for student MetroCards in the future, Walder said.

"We simply do not have the money to continue with arrangements as they've previously existed," Walder said.

Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a transit riders' advocacy group, said the MTA's "financial problems are real."

Free subway service for students has been a part of New York City since 1948, Russianoff said. He estimated that 585,000 students use mass transit to get to school.

As for the MTA layoffs, "Not even the severe critics of the MTA can rejoice that hundreds of men and women will be losing their jobs," he said.

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