Barring another government rescue, thousands of Long Islanders will see their commutes disrupted next year when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority implements a host of service cuts approved Wednesday for the Long Island Rail Road and Long Island Bus.
The cuts could force West Hempstead residents to drive for miles on weekends to get to the nearest functioning LIRR station, strand Merrick residents traveling to Roosevelt Field by bus, and force rush-hour commuters to wake up earlier to catch a train or to take a later train at the workday's end.
By a unanimous vote of 12-0, the MTA board approved a 2010 operating budget that some board members dubbed "Doomsday II." The budget looks to fill a budget shortfall of nearly $400 million in part through the cuts, which also include the elimination of city subway and bus lines.
The cuts will not take effect before July - potentially providing enough time for state and federal officials to find other ways to fill the budget gap. Several hearings on the proposed cuts will be held in coming months, MTA officials have said.
"This is the beginning, not the end," MTA chief executive and chairman Jay Walder said at the meeting.
Although Walder said there was not enough time left in the year to stave off agency action on the proposed cuts, he predicted the MTA's finances would be better a year from now as he vowed to streamline the agency's operations through layoffs and reductions in overtime.
The promise was of little solace to several transit advocates and elected officials who blasted the MTA's budget and cast the proposed cuts as cruel and unnecessary.
"When a crisis comes, you go for the most vulnerable. You go for our students. You go for people with disabilities," Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer said. "We should not be in the business of going after the next generation because this generation can't run a transit system."