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EDITORIAL: MTA shouldn't leave vulnerable riders stranded

The bad news isn't letting up. Now, it's the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which must cut $400 million before passing a budget today. That means there will be more service reductions next year, hurting Long Island Rail Road and Long Island Bus riders. But before the cuts are final, the MTA should reconsider balancing its budget on the backs of the most vulnerable.

This year already, the LIRR closed 20 ticket windows and canceled five trains to balance shaky MTA finances. The new plan eliminates a bus route to Nassau Community College and Roosevelt Field Mall. Bus riders rarely have many transportation options, and shutting down such routes could wreck students' education plans, put retail workers out of jobs and dampen shopping.

New MTA chief Jay Walder, on the job since October, set a goal of rebuilding the agency's credibility. He is preparing to scour the budget to wring savings from $479 million in overtime, 5,000 administrative positions and $1 billion in parts purchases. He will do so in a precarious environment. Gov. David A. Paterson nabbed $145 million from the MTA just one week before the discovery that the payroll tax is collecting $229 million less than projected. This tax was ill-conceived, but now is not the best time to consider reducing it.

The MTA is wise to live within its means - wise enough, we hope, not to leave any rider stranded. hN