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Editorial: Don't raid the pockets of LIRR riders

The MTA has reduced the size of future

The MTA has reduced the size of future planned fare hikes, including one in 2015, to 4 percent from 7.5 percent. Credit: Ed Betz

Commuters on the Long Island Rail Road could get taken for a ride in more ways than one as Albany's annual budget bash rolls toward a conclusion.

The problem is this: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to pull $40 million out of a pot earmarked for the MTA and use it for unspecified state government operations.

The idea is like picking bills out of our wallets.

The pot Cuomo wants to raid comes from revenue sources -- like real estate transfer taxes, petroleum taxes and a portion of the state sales tax -- that are supposed to be dedicated to the MTA and its customers.

For tens of thousands of daily LIRR riders, this money keeps fares from growing higher still and helps pay for necessary service costs.

That's no small thing because:

-- LIRR commuters underwrite 49 percent of the railroad's operating costs with their fares. New Jersey PATH riders underwrite about 35 percent.

-- LIRR commuters also have been subjected to a merciless run of fare increases in recent years. Last year's hike was the fourth in five years. The increases have far outpaced the rate of inflation -- and new rounds of suffering are on tap for 2015 and 2017.

Meanwhile, service cuts have compounded the misery. But with $2.2 million in new revenue, the LIRR could add six new rush-hour trains each weekday, according to advocates from the Riders Alliance and NYPIRG's Straphangers Campaign. It says that with $400,000, the railroad could add 10 new off-peak weekday trains. And with $300,000 it could add 10 new trains every weekend day.

But the MTA would need full funding to make that happen.

Riders have upheld their end of the deal despite years of MTA-inflicted hardship. So now that times are better, how about a little respect?

The pain train has got to end.