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N51, N80 bus lines off MTA chopping block

The N51 and N80 lines of the Long Island Bus, originally pegged for elimination in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's latest "doomsday" budget, have been taken off the chopping block, transit officials said.

In December, the MTA board approved a 2010 budget that sought to eliminate eight Long Island Bus lines, including the N51, which travels between Merrick and Garden City, and the N80, which goes from Hicksville to Massapequa. LI Bus officials, who still plan on discontinuing 15 other lines, said the routes were targeted for elimination because of low ridership.

The N51 carried an average of 213 passengers each weekday, and the N80 carried an average of 246 passengers on weekdays.

In a report issued this month, LI Bus proposed eliminating another nine lines but also said the axing of the N51 and N80 was "no longer under consideration."

At a meeting Monday of the MTA's Long Island Committee, Joseph Smith, president of the MTA's bus operations, said the cuts were taken off the table because there were no clear transportation alternatives for those lines' riders.

The N51 is the only bus line serving a large portion of Merrick. It also serves Roosevelt Field Mall and Nassau Community College. The N80 has the same start and end points as the N81, but takes a considerably different route.

Yuri Choi, 23, rides the N51 twice a day from her home in North Merrick to Nassau Community College, where she is learning English and hopes to study business. She arrived from South Korea five months ago and has depended on the bus ever since.

"I hope I can keep taking this bus while I'm here," she said, smiling. "I don't know what I would do if the bus was cut."

Ryan Lynch, spokesman for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which has advocated for LI Bus riders, said that while it was good news that the N51 and the N80 were being spared, their reprieve likely came at the expense of other lines.

Lynch said the cuts affect 34 percent of the LI Bus system, whose riders have an average income of $22,000.

Frank Pupa, 29, a philosophy professor at Nassau Community College, said news of the preservation of the N51 line is welcome, but officials need to look more closely at the purpose of public transportation.

"Public transportation is supposed to be a public good," said Pupa, of Freeport, who takes the N51 to get to work. "If anything, they should be increasing service."

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