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Disabled transit riders fearful of MTA cuts

Dozens of disabled transit riders met Monday to formulate a plan to combat the MTA's proposed cuts of Nassau's Able-Ride system, which some users said could leave them housebound, jobless and fearful for their health.

As part of its effort to close a nearly $400-million budget gap, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to no longer offer door-to-door bus service for disabled riders who live more than three-quarters of a mile from an existing bus route. Riders living in several communities in the town of Oyster Bay, which has few bus lines, will be hardest-hit. The changes will take effect April 12.

About 50 Able-Ride users and their families - many of them accompanied by service dogs, wheelchairs and blind canes - talked at a meeting of the Long Island Center for Independent Living with hopes of putting together a strategy to stop or at least put off the changes. MTA officials have said their actions are in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

"I am in the woods with no one else," said Janet Triant, 50, of Old Bethpage, who lives with a number of disabilities. Triant said she is alone, without any family or friends to help her, and that the Able-Ride system is her lifeline to the rest of society. "I am in fear of dying. I am in fear for my life . . . I need help, and so do many others."

Cathryn Harris, a Glen Cove attorney who attended the meeting and is offering legal support to the disabled riders, said their first goal should be to seek a court-ordered injunction halting the service cuts - ideally until an alternative could be found for the affected riders. Several of them said they would support a system in which private taxi companies would provide transportation to disabled riders in exchange for MTA and government subsidies.

Jerry Mikorenda, spokesman for Long Island Bus, said the agency is "open to new ideas," and is working hard to be as efficient as possible, including through the use of improved computer software for reservations and the replacement of some costly buses with sedans. Still, Mikorenda said, Able-Ride remains an expensive and difficult system to maintain.

"The simplest part is the bus pulling up to your driveway," he said.

Several riders also said they would call upon elected officials to fight the cuts, which they said could cost Nassau County and the state more money than the MTA is looking to save, because, without transportation, some customers would be forced to lose their jobs and private insurance.

"From an economic point of view, this would be extremely devastating to the disabled community," said Theresa Brzezinski, director of advocacy for the center. "If you look at the bigger picture . . . we're going backwards instead of forward."

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