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Sunday Bus Service Kicks Off: Resident Sees Red Over 'County's Theft of Funds'

Lisa Finn
Southampton Patch

It's time to get on the bus, Gus.

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman announced this week that Sunday and holiday bus service will begin again on the East End with the holiday weekend.

The Sunday service will run from Memorial Day weekend until October 13, Columbus Day weekend.

The program was successful for the past two years, with numbers indicating a healthy ridership, and is back for another season.

“Sunday is a busy day for retail and service-oriented businesses. Employees need to get to work and employers need a workforce they can depend on,” Schneiderman said.

The Sunday service begins on the S92 and 10C lines; the S92 bus line runs from Orient Point to East Hampton, making stops in Sag Harbor, Water Mill, Southampton Village, Hampton Bays, Flanders and Riverhead.

Meanwhile, the 10C line connects East Hampton riders to the S92 route, making stops in Montauk, Amagansett and East Hampton.

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.

Recently, the Suffolk County Legislature also voted to approve an agreement between Schneiderman and County Executive Steve Bellone that aims to provide a minimum of $1.1 million and up to $2.1 million in funding to expand Sunday bus service across Suffolk County.

This year, 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 authorizes using $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 also directs 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.

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 -- and he's seeing red over the county's actions.

He said this week that he was "burned up about the theft of funds authorized by the Suffolk County legislature via a 'compromise' deal between the Legislature and Steve Bellone."

Governor Andrew Cuomo, he said, "squeezed out" extra funding to expand Suffolk County bus service.

"Sadly, our County Executive found this to be an irresistible opportunity to plug a little bit of the big budget gap in the general fund. So he planned to use all of it, as his predecessor had on a previous occasion, for non-transit purposes. Actually, the last two county executives have done the same thing. it is a fine Ponzi type scheme that works like a charm."

First, the county accepts the increased funds and promises to use the money for the bus system, Taldone said. "Then, it cleverly reduces its own contribution to the system so that the diverted county funds can be used for other purposes. The end result is that the state's increase in funding provides no increase in service."

He added, "Well, today, we have a Democrat in the County Executive's seat and a Democratically controlled Legislature. So what do we get from 'progressives'? They only steal half the money and actually do use some of it for transit. Stealing half the loaf is somehow okay? Should poor people and folks with disabilities be grateful? I for one am not."

Taldone reminded that there was a 50 percent fare increase over the past 18 months with para-transit fares increasing 25 percent next week this month. "So don't for one minute thank the county for helping the poor and disabled to get around. We are paying for it entirely out of our own pockets."

In response to Taldone's charges, Bellone, said, in a statement emailed by spokesperson Vanessa Baird-Streeter, "In 2013, Suffolk County residents will subsidize the Suffolk County bus system to the tune of $31 million, up from $15 million just seven years ago. The recent agreement to use a portion of the increased state funds to expand bus service and reduce the Suffolk County subsidy of the bus system is fair and equitable. Expanding bus service helps take cars off the road and provides opportunity and access for thousands of Suffolk County residents. I commend Legislator Schneiderman for his continued leadership to make Sunday bus service a reality in Suffolk County and working alongside me to expand service and provide deficit relief. I also want to thank our state delegation for their hard work to get Suffolk County’s transit aid increased by approximately $2 million."

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.