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Editorial: Put MTA surplus where it helps most -- rider service

A file photo of a train pulling into

A file photo of a train pulling into the Ronkonkoma LIRR station. (Sept. 30, 2011) Credit: Ed Betz

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to wind up with a windfall of around $40 million in July when it works out its midyear budget adjustments. What should it do with the money? It could:

Put a tiny dent in burgeoning fares.

Sweeten the pot for a Transit Workers Union contract.

Restore service that's been whacked in recent years.

We vote for service restorations. The money should not underwrite pay raises. The MTA and TWU must make pay raises happen with cost savings -- not with another punch to the solar plexus for riders.

Long-suffering riders have slogged through four fare hikes in the last five years. So why not cut fares? The answer is that it's hard to see how the MTA could reduce fares significantly, over multiple rail and bus systems, with a windfall that looks rather modest at the moment.

It's better to mitigate the service cuts. The MTA has made crucial strides already toward this goal. But it needs to do more. Packed train cars, crowded platforms, longer commutes and higher fares are still a toxic mix. For starters, the MTA should pick the option that brings the most bang for the buck -- the New York City subway system.

Every weekday, the MTA provides an average of 5.3 million subway rides, 2.1 million bus rides, 283,000 rides on the Long Island Rail Road and 281,000 rides on Metro-North. Tens of thousands of suburban rail commuters use the subways daily as well -- including 52 percent of LIRR passengers and 37 percent of those on Metro-North. More trains on more key subway lines would be a godsend.

In addition the MTA might want to look at restoring LIRR service to Greenport and on the West Hempstead branch.

When it comes to the subways and commuter rails, everyone in the region has felt the crunch. Now, as the economy picks up and MTA coffers aren't quite so empty, the agency owes us -- big time.