Suffolk County residents who have long cried out for Sunday and evening bus service could soon see relief.
Suffolk Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced this week an agreement that could provide a minimum of $1.1 million and up to $2.1 million in funding to expand Sunday bus service across Suffolk County.
Those advocating for the new legislation believe the expanded service could prove an environmental and economic boon.
The legislation was approved Tuesday by the Legislature's public works and transportation committee; a vote on the legislation will be held Tuesday at the County Legislature's general meeting in Hauppauge.
Co-sponsored by Suffolk County Legislators Al Krupski, Sarah Anker and Tom Muratore, the measure has received bi-partisan support, Schneiderman said.
In addition, the legislation has received support by transportation advocates and the county’s Welfare to Work Commission.
“We are building upon the successful pilot program for Sunday bus service we launched two years ago on the East End,” Schneiderman said. “Sunday is a busy day for retail and service-oriented businesses. Employees need to get to work and employers need a work force they can depend on.”“
Bellone agreed. "This resolution is a step forward to expand bus service while cutting our deficit. Expanding bus service helps take cars off the road and provides opportunity and access for thousands of Suffolk County residents," he said.
Krupski said many businesses on the East End, including those on the North Fork, rely on public transportation to get workers to their jobs, especially during the summer season.
"I strongly support Legislator Schneiderman’s initiative to expand Sunday service,” he said. "It’s an important economic boost for my district and will also help workers get to the jobs they need to be self-sufficient. And it’s a win for all Suffolk County taxpayers by helping cut our general fund deficit.”
A pilot program for Sunday and holiday bus service, which has been widely embraced, has been in effect for the past two summer seasons, running from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.
The pilot program was introduced on the S92 and 10C bus routes in eastern Suffolk and was subsidized in part by a 25 cent higher main fare for riders.
Recenly, New York State increased its state transit operating assistance for Suffolk Transit by approximately $2.1 million above the level anticipated in the Suffolk County 2013 budget, giving the county the opportunity to establish Sunday bus service year-round on limited routes.
In a compromise reached with Bellone, Schneiderman agreed to have $1.1 million of the additional state funding dedicated to expanding Sunday bus service, with the additional $1 million going into the county’s general fund; Schneiderman originally proposed dedicating the entire $2.1 million to expanding Sunday bus service.
Schneiderman said he hopes the Job Access Reverse Commute federal matching grant program could add $1 million and make up the difference.
The new legislation would use $1.1 million of the increased funding provided by New York State to expand bus services in Suffolk County in the evenings and on Sundays. It would also direct the county's department of public works to apply for the federal matching grant funding through the Job Access Reverse Commute, or JARC, program, with the goal of achieving a total of $2 million in new funding for expanded Sunday and evening bus service.
Under the legislation, it will be up to the county's department of public works to develop a plan, within 30 days of the effective date of the resolution, to expand the county’s bus service in the evening hours and on Sundays to the fullest extent possible.
The plan for expanded bus service would be continued as a pilot program for one year.
Schneiderman said with the East End's Sunday bus service set to begin again on Memorial Day, some of the funding garnered with the new legislation could be used to expand service on the East End -- but the ultimate decision on how the money will be spent lies with the department of public work's plan.
The plan, he added, will be based on findings of a full needs assessment study for Suffolk buses that was done years ago. "They'll use that as a guiding document, and they're going to start adding routes," he said.
Some areas where new Sunday bus service is needed include the New York State Route 110 corridor in Huntington, near the Walt Whitman mall, Schneiderman said. Also, he added, connecting routes to the East End's S92 bus line, coming from areas such as Patchogue and Shirley, are critical.
"We have workers coming from Patchogue and Shirley to the Hamptons, who might work on a Sunday, but still can't get there."
The Sunday bus routes are not only needed not only by workers in service industries and retail, Schneiderman said, but by others who can't drive, such as the visually impaired. And, he added, public transportation is a green alternative, good for the environment.
"If it's convenient and affordable, people will take it," he said.
Schneiderman said he has no plans of stopping his push for increased service. "Progress may be incremental but to those it affects, it's monumental," he said.
Vince Taldone, Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association vice-president and member of Five Town Rural Transit, Inc., has been advocating for Sunday bus service since 2001.
"This is big for people with mobility issues like me and the many others who don't or can't drive," he said. "The Suffolk County Transit Authority buses will be able to take passengers to visit friends, go to work or just hit the beach or a park on every Sunday and every holiday year round and all across the county."
Taldone thanked Governor Andrew Cuomo, who initiated the increased state aid to the county's bus system. "This is great news for people with disabilities in our town and all across the county," he said.