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Plan to cut LI Bus routes devastates riders

Three or four times a week, Jean Chastain pays the $1.10 senior fare on the N51 bus, one of three buses she rides from her Elmont home to Merrick to visit a sick friend.

But the N51 is doomed. Even during peak rush-hour times, the bus that travels between Merrick and Garden City often is not even half-full, so officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have decided to scrap it - stranding Chastain and the line's other regulars, who include commuters, shoppers and some Nassau Community College students.

"It's my only means of transportation," retiree Chastain said last month, after the MTA board voted to cut the N51 and seven other Long Island Bus lines to help meet a budget shortfall. "They keep raising rates up, but they're not improving on the service. The people sit at their desks and make these decisions, and they don't take public transportation," she said.

When the N51 is gone - and it is the only bus for a 3-mile stretch of Merrick Avenue, between Prospect Avenue and Route 27A - she will have to walk.

From Route 27A in Merrick, the line goes along the main drag of Merrick Avenue to the LIRR station, Nassau Community College, RexCorp Plaza in Uniondale, and near the Nassau Coliseum and Hofstra University before ending at Roosevelt Field mall.

It stops right at the Merrick office where John Mosley works as a file clerk. The bus-to-door convenience is why he's endured two years of a 90-minute commute each way from his Long Island City home.

As officials urge people to take public transportation more, he may buy a car if the N51 - scheduled for elimination in a few months - isn't rescued. The problem is he doesn't have enough money. "I'm going to have to tighten my belt a little tighter," Mosley said.

SUNY Old Westbury student Jennifer Norton of Levittown, an N51 regular, feels slighted by MTA officials. She rides other lines as well, shuttling between school, work and other places.

"They just say, 'Oh, we're going to cut several lines' and really the story that you hear about is 'New York City, New York City,' " she said. "But honestly, people on the Island, we depend on the bus just as much."

The death of the N51 could have serious consequences for student James Labella of Bayville, who rides it regularly to Nassau Community College. "I need this bus badly," he said, on the last bus out of Merrick one night. "I'm hustling right now as it is. I barely have money to pay for the fare."

His mother has a car, but she's at work when he goes to school. "There's no alternative unless I drop out," he said. "If they cut this bus, that leaves me nowhere."

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