Bus isn’t real option for commuters

08/19/2010 12:00 AM |

As the Gulf oil spill has made us more aware of how our individual energy use effects the environment, it makes me wonder why so few people use public transportation on eastern Long Island. For people like me, taking the Suffolk County Transit bus is as foreign as speaking Mandarin (which, in case you wondering after reading my byline, I do not speak).

Sure, many of us have been stuck behind those long blue buses on Main Road, or we’ve seen them lining up at the Suffolk County Center in Riverside. But how often do the majority of us actually hop on one? Really, never.

That’s probably because riding a bus, or utilizing any other form of public transportation on the East End, has never been very convenient. With limited schedules and bus stops that are few and far between, driving a car just seems like a better option.

Last Thursday, I decided to see if that was true.

After a 24-hour trip down the East Coast on a Greyhound bus last month, I figured I could navigate a 16-mile trip from my Manorville home to the Mattituck Times/Review office via public transportation.

Turns out it wasn’t that simple.

I logged onto the county’s website, trying to find the bus schedule and general information, but the only thing I found was that it was difficult to navigate. I tried calling the listed phone number and got a busy signal several times. Back on the website I was finally able to print out a schedule and learned that I could bring my bike on the bus, provided there was enough room on the rack attached to its front.

According to the site, my best bet would be to take the 8:05 a.m. S90 from East Moriches to the county center and then transfer at 8:55 to the S92, which would take me across the North Fork. The trip would cost $1.75, including the transfer.

At about 7:45 a.m., I grabbed my electric blue Schwinn and began pedaling 2.7 miles from my house to the bus station on Montauk Highway in East Moriches. Not a bad ride on a beautiful summer day, but I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like to make that trek all bundled up on a snowy day in February.

When the S90 arrived, the bus driver huffed, puffed and rolled his eyes as he helped me load the bike onto the rack, which in his defense was much easier to do than I made it appear. The ride to Riverside was uneventful, though it takes nearly an hour because the bus stops in every Montauk Highway hamlet from Center Moriches to East Quogue.

Once at the county center, I had about two minutes to board the Greenport-bound S92, which I failed to do because I had to unload my bike. The next bus was 30 minutes away. I left Riverhead at about 9:25 a.m. and walked into the office at 9:50.

Once there, I felt that two hours was all the bus ride I could handle for one work day and hitched a ride home with my boyfriend.

Fellow reporter Tim Gannon said that by getting a ride home I was cheating, but I disagree. My boyfriend works in the same office and my home is on his way, so the ecological effect remained intact.

The bus gets a bad rap. For people like myself who before last week had never even seen a Suffolk County bus schedule, the perception is that it is inconvenient, inconsistent and sporadic — not to mention unsafe, thanks to a recent incident in which a bus driver allegedly attempted to rape a female passenger.

For me, those perceptions did not stand up to reality.

My actual trip was surprisingly pleasant. The bus was clean, the ride was smooth and the passengers kept to themselves, which anyone who has ridden the Greyhound will tell you is the best-case scenario during a trip.

But was it better than driving?

Door to door the trip took just over two hours, or more than four times what it would have taken me by car. Round trip from Manorville to Mattituck cost $3.50, more than I pay each day in gas. But if you only use public transportation, there is of course the savings of all the overhead associated with owning a car.

What it boils down to is: if I felt like commuting four hours to and from work everyday, I would work in Manhattan.

Is taking the bus to work once in a while when the weather is nice and there is a little extra time to spare a fun experiment in reducing one’s carbon footprint? Absolutely.

Does it work as a dependable daily mode of transportation for most people? I don’t think so.

Our elected leaders need to understand that public transportation has to be easier if we ever hope to decrease our dependency on oil. But we need to meet them halfway and make the pledge to use it.

Vera Chinese is a staff writer. She can be reached at [email protected] or 298-3200.