Sunday buses, fare hikes likely coming to the East End

The Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday approved a 50 cent bus fare increase on two East End bus routes, the S92 and the 20C, in order to provide Sunday bus service on the lines.

The measure has the support of East End elected officials and business groups that have for years been pushing for Sunday services.

The increase, only a pilot program to assess Sunday service, was proposed by the two East End representatives in the 18-member Legislature, Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches).

The two men held a press conference to draw attention to the proposed measure Friday at the County Center bus stop in Riverside, where they were joined by Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter; Southold Supervisor Scott Russell; Tom Neely, Southampton Town transportation director; and Vince Taldone of Five Town Rural Transit, a group that has worked to improve public transportation on the East End.

Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst wasn’t present but wrote a letter in support.

“Sunday, particularly on the East End, is a busy day,” Mr. Schneiderman said at the press conference. “The restaurants, the shops, the hotels, a lot of the businesses depend on a work force that is increasingly dependent on public transportation. Except, that work force can’t get there.”

The bill approved Tuesday will increase the fare from $1.50 to $2 on the two bus lines. The S92, which goes from East Hampton to Orient, has the highest Saturday ridership and the second highest overall ridership in the county. The S92 also drops people off at the Riverhead train station and the County Center. The 10Cline connects locations east of East Hampton to the S92.

The bill sets the deadline for implementing Sunday service on these two lines as July 3, 2011. The legislation still needs to be signed by County Executive Steve Levy, who had asked the Legislature to hold off on the measure until a survey of riders could be taken, said Dan Aug, a Levy spokesman. “Our request was denied,” Mr. Aug said. “We will consider doing our own survey next week to gauge ridership opinion.”

Still, it would seem the Legislature has well more than the 12 votes needed to override a veto.

Tuesday’s vote was approved by 16 of the 17 legislators.

Legislator Lou D’Amara, a Democrat from Huntington Town, voiced opposition.

“I don’t think this is a good time to be raising fares on any bus line,” he said.

He also questioned how the county would be able to discontinue the service if the pilot program doesn’t turn out to be cost effective.

“My concern is that if this fails, the rest of the county will end up subsidizing it,” he said.

“In my district, the lack of public transportation is appalling,” Mr. Romaine said.

In addition to there being no bus service on Sunday, there also are no trains, as the Long Island Rail Road discontinued weekend service from Ronkonkoma to Greenport, he said.

The only way for someone without a car to get anywhere would be to walk, get a bicycle or take a cab, which could get pricey, Mr. Romaine said.

Legislator Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) wanted assurances that the county would pull the plug on the pilot “if it doesn’t pay for itself.”

Gil Anderson, the commissioner of the county Department of Public Works, which runs the bus service, assured him that DPW will keep close tabs on the numbers.

The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, Tanger Outlet Center and East End Getaway, a tourism web site, have all submitted letters in support of the Sunday bus service, Mr. Taldone said.

“Transportation service on weekends and holidays is a critical component for business to succeed on the East End,” Chamber president Janine Nebons wrote. “The lack of weekend and holiday service [requires] those employees without access to private transportation to rely on expensive taxi service to get to work, or worse, [means they are not] available to work on one of the busiest days of the week, especially during tourism season.”

Meanwhile, some of the bus riders waiting at the bus stop where Friday’s press conference was held said they’d welcome Sunday bus service too.

“I work at Tanger, and there were no buses to there, so a lot of times, I had to walk home to Old Quogue Road [in Riverside]”, said Frances Zachary.

She was happy to hear that Sunday bus service was being proposed, but it turns out the bus line to Tanger isn’t among those that would get Sunday service.

Another woman at the bus stop, who didn’t give her name, said Sunday bus service should be extended to several bus lines, including the one to the Smith Haven Mall. “That’s where everybody’s going,” she said. “That or church.”

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