Riders and supporters of Suffolk County Transit Bus got on board the S40 bus Monday in Hauppauge to deliver 1,500 signed petitions to state Sen. Phil Boyle’s office in Bay Shore as part of an organized campaign to fix the state’s inadequate funding of the county’s bus system.
Without more aid from Albany, Suffolk County Transit Bus will continue to suffer from an unfair balance of public support in our region. Last year, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Suffolk County contributed more than 50 percent of its transit system’s $57 million operating budget, while New York State ponied up only 35 percent. Nassau County coughed up only 2 percent to Nassau Inter-County Express’ $113 million operating budget while the state covered more than 50 percent.
Granted, the counties’ daily ridership varies significantly: The average weekday ridership for Suffolk is 22,000 riders and 100,000 passengers for Nassau. On the other hand, weekday bus service in Suffolk ends at 7 p.m., while some Nassau routes are 24/7 and others end around 1 a.m.
Last year, Suffolk County Transit Bus was able to increase Sunday service along 10 routes because it had received an additional $2 million from the state and the federal government. This year, Suffolk County was hoping for a $10 million increase in the 2014 state budget to expand service significantly but only got $500,000 more, which barely covers inflation, advocates claim.
In a March 10, 2014 letter addressed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone wrote: “Other suburban counties such as Nassau and Westchester receive up to five times the amount of state funds that Suffolk County receives.”
“Suffolk County has done a decent job of supporting its bus system and has shown that if given additional resources they will expand service,” said Ryan Lynch, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit policy organization dedicated to reducing car dependency in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. “Suffolk County’s New York State elected officials need to do more to support the millions of riders and businesses who depend on the reliability of the system.”
“The formula that drives state aid of suburban counties’ public bus systems must be updated,” said State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) in a press statement. “My constituents in Suffolk County aren’t looking for a free ride, we’re just advocating for our fair share.”
Meanwhile, attempts to expand service are showing signs of success, advocates point out. Through the end of March, Sunday ridership had grown by 97 percent. In fact, the S40 that participants boarded to Bay Shore saw a 56-percent increase in Sunday ridership from January through March.
The petition drive started three weeks ago. The advocates’ group intends to drop the petitions off at the offices of each of Suffolk County’s elected state officials in the hopes that these representatives will climb on board and find more funds to support the county’s bus service.
“After collecting hundreds of petition signatures from students at SUNY Stony Brook, it is clear that students need more SCT bus service” said New York Public Interest Research Group’s regional supervisor, Jaqi Cohen. “Stony Brook students are taking the S60, S69, and 3D routes that allow them to travel off campus to places like Port Jefferson and the Smith Haven Mall. Hundreds of students have signed our petition calling on our state elected officials to improve these vital services. We want them to heed their call for more SCT bus services.”
“I represent many riders in Suffolk County that depend on the bus to get to and from work, specifically those who work at the Riverhead Tanger Outlets and the newly built Walmart Supercenter,” said Octavia Clarkson, a bus commuter. “Many of these workers, including my two siblings, do not work the typical Monday to Friday, nine-to-five work schedule and deserve to have transportation once their shift is over or at the close of business. I know that there is much more that can be done to extend this bus service into the evenings as well as increase Sunday service to more than 10 local routes.”
“Lack of adequate bus services should not be a reason for students, working people or professionals to be limited in accessing life opportunities,” said Dawn Wing, a librarian at Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman Campus. “Frequent bus breakdowns, insufficient emergency bus back-ups, lack of evening hour services make it difficult for Suffolk Community College students to attend classes and for faculty, such as myself, to work overtime. Enhancing bus services would benefit all Suffolk community members, not just current bus riders.
“To invest in public transportation is to invest in the prosperity of Long Island,” she added.