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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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LIRR’s Give & Take

The U.S. Open Championship prompts thousands of tennis fans each year to use the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), and that’s a good thing. The public’s migration to the LIRR gets cars off the road and serves as a prominent reminder of mass transit’s importance to the region.

There’s little doubt the LIRR Port Washington branch’s easy trip to Mets-Willet Point station, only a short walk from the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens, is the best way to catch the action between Monday, Aug. 30 and Sunday, Sept. 12.

Alas, whatever good vibes the LIRR will generate within that timeframe will be negated by the new LIRR schedules which take effect on Monday, Sept. 13. The LIRR is implementing on that day the second phase of its budget-related service cuts, the LIRR’s Train Talk publication explained, in a flier distributed to commuters last week.

The LIRR’s Port Washington branch, which will be jammed for the Open Championship, is going to be a decidedly less popular transportation option starting in mid-September. That’s when the LIRR is having the branch’s midday-weekday and weekend train service reduced to hourly trips from its current half-hour. “Stops have been added to the remaining trains, in order to provide service to all stations each hour,” Train Talk states. In other words, not only are there going to be fewer Port Washington branch trains on weekdays and weekends but they’ll be stopping more frequently, and therefore taking longer to get to their final destination.

Train Talk had some bad news for riders on the Long Beach, Ronkonkoma, and West Hempstead branches, too. Effective Monday, Sept. 13, the Long Beach branch’s 6:09 a.m. train to Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn is cancelled, and the same goes for the Ronkonkoma branch’s 4:34 p.m. train to Ronkonkoma from Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn. “The 4:24 p.m. Penn Station-Ronkonkoma train will have an added stop at Jamaica and the 4:31 p.m. Penn-Station-Huntington train will have added stops at New Hyde Park, Merillon Avenue, Mineola, Carle Place and Westbury to accommodate customers affected by this reduction in service,” the LIRR’s publication states. The West Hempstead branch’s weekend service is being eliminated and its 8:28 a.m. peak train to Atlantic Terminal has been cancelled.

None of these developments alarm the elected officials who run New York state government, which has outsized influence over the operations of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the LIRR’s parent agency. Governor David Paterson, state Senator John Sampson, and state Assemblyman Sheldon Silver are from New York City, giving Albany a city-centric worldview.

These three lawmakers thwarted efforts to place tolls on the now toll-free East River crossings, an initiative proposed by Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch before he joined the Paterson administration, which would have raised annually hundreds of millions of dollars for the MTA. The governor and state legislative leaders also found a way amid the MTA’s budget crisis to preserve free and reduced-fare MetroCards for the city’s school-age children. Long Islanders are clearly not their peeps but you knew that already, right?

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net