Governor David Paterson speaks at Aqueduct race track, Thursday. (Oct....

Governor David Paterson speaks at Aqueduct race track, Thursday. (Oct. 28, 2010) Credit: Jim Staubitser

Former New York Gov. David A. Paterson formally joined the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Wednesday, and in his first meeting expressed concern that a new MTA cost-cutting initiative could negatively impact disabled transit riders.

At the outset of the Manhattan meeting, MTA chairman Joseph Lhota welcomed Paterson, whom he expected to be a "strong advocate" for transit users.

"Governor Paterson has a great deal of knowledge about the strengths and complexities of our transit system," Lhota said.

Paterson first spoke at the meeting as the board considered a proposal to issue free MetroCards to disabled bus and subway riders in New York City.

Lhota said the plan aimed to offer some disabled riders an alternative to the expensive Access-a-Ride paratransit system, which costs the MTA about $60 per trip to operate.

Paterson, who is blind and has advocated for people with disabilities throughout his career, said that, though he believed the agency's motivation was "very genuine," he was concerned that by using fixed-route buses and subways, some disabled riders could jeopardize their ability to qualify for paratransit services in the future.

"Doesn't their use of subways, even with the free MetroCard, diminish that to the point that they may some day in the future be ineligible for Access-a-Ride?" Paterson asked.

Lhota said "that clearly is not the intent, nor do I see it happening that way."

The board unanimously approved the measure, which Lhota said would be phased in over the next four years.

At the meeting, the MTA board also approved a land swap deal between the Long Island Rail Road and the Town of Babylon. Under the plan, the LIRR will give the town a 1.49-acre parcel that includes the Wyandanch station building and some parking space. In return the LIRR will get a 2.16-acre piece of property that could eventually house a parking structure that would increase the number of parking spaces available for commuters.

The town would use the newly acquired land as part of its $500 million Wyandanch Rising redevelopment plan.

In a statement Monday, LIRR president Helena Williams said that "as a key stake holder," the LIRR is "delighted" to participate in the plan.

"The LIRR has collaborated with the town to ensure that transit services and community development plans complement each other," she said.

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