Plans to eliminate 10 percent of Able-Ride services to bolster the budget of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are on hold for now, by order of a federal judge. But the future of this vital service - which carries disabled people to jobs, doctors' visits and social outings - remains shaky. Local leaders need to decide if they value this service enough to protect it.

As part of MTA Long Island Bus, Able-Ride is caught in the long-running funding spat between the MTA and Nassau County. Nassau's is the only suburban bus service that receives an MTA subsidy; Suffolk and Westchester do not. The Nassau County Legislature cut bus funding by $1.2 million last year, and now the MTA wants to wring some savings from this service, too. Disabled riders are pawns in this battle.

Able-Ride's current plan would all but eliminate service in Oyster Bay, including Syosset and Bayville. Elected officials at the town and county levels must decide whether this is acceptable - or provide the leadership to halt the service cuts.

With careful management, the cost could be whittled. Able-Ride could place a priority on work and medical trips, and cut rides to the mall. Providing private taxis would be cheaper than Able-Ride's nearly $40 cost per trip. The $3.75 fare could also be raised. And the vast nonprofit community, along with our network of religious organizations, can help.

What's needed here is some out-of-the-bus thinking. hN