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Editorial: LIRR riders catch a break from MTA

An LIRR train disappears into a tunnel westbound

An LIRR train disappears into a tunnel westbound on the way to Penn Station via an east river tunnel under the 49th Ave. underpass in Hunter's Point, Queens. (May 11, 2011) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Give a quick nod to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The agency that provides Long Island Rail Road commuters with 335,000 rides a day has decided to halve the fare increases it is planning to roll out in 2015 and 2017.

That's good news -- but not great news.

On the downside we're still recovering from those nasty LIRR fare hikes of the Great Recession. Between 2008 and 2013, for example, a monthly ticket between Penn Station and Ronkonkoma jumped nearly 30 percent -- from $278 to $363.

That crunch far outpaces the rate of inflation, and the lost ground won't be regained soon by many families.

So rather than promising riders a great leap forward, the agency is simply proposing a smaller amount of pain. The plan would stick LIRR riders with increases roughly in line with inflation at 4 percent instead of 7.5 percent.

But for all our caveats, we're pleased the MTA board approved the cuts at its meeting this month.

A small break for LIRR commuters is better than none. The move is one way of recognizing the painful financial sacrifices LIRR riders have made throughout the bleakest economy in recent history.

The windfall that made the cuts possible was created by MTA belt-tightening and unexpectedly large real estate and farebox revenues. Competition for the cash was intense. Transport Workers Union Local 100, which must negotiate a contract with the MTA, wanted a piece. So did managers who keep MTA properties in good repair. So did thousands of others who do business with the agency daily.

But the MTA has chosen to say thanks to its riders first -- and the riders richly deserve it. For the MTA, it's a splendid way to build up customer loyalty and increase ridership.