A total of 19 Suffolk County Transit bus routes could be eliminated under budget cuts due to a lack of federal funding amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Friday.
The cuts span Suffolk County and would affect approximately 2,500 riders a day, based on pre-COVID numbers, the county executive said at a press conference in Hauppauge.
“Because Washington has failed to act, we are now in a position where cuts to public transit, just like cuts to public safety and public health, the things that we do here in county government, are necessary,” Mr. Bellone said.
He said the cuts would produce about $18 million in savings.
“We’re hopeful the federal government will act here,” he said.
The routes selected for cutting are some with the lowest ridership, Mr. Bellone said. The S92 route, which exclusively serves the North Fork as the lone route east of Aquebogue, is not included in the 19 potential cuts. The S62 route, however, which runs along the North Shore and through Wading River into Riverhead, is slated to be discontinued.
There are approximately 339 riders per day on the S62, according to the county. It’s the second most used route among the 19 slated to be discontinued.
“We’re trying to impact as small a group as possible, but with these kind of cuts, you’re impacting thousands of people,” he said.
John Corrado, president of Suffolk Transportation Service, called the potential cuts “devastating.”
He said ridership was down about 40% during the pandemic but is on its way back. He said there about 5 million trips annually.
“The public system helps get the economy back on its feet,” he said.
The operating cost for Suffolk Transit is $85 million, with more than $43 million being funded by the county, according to the county executive. Another $29 million is funded from New York State, $8 million from fares and $4.4 million from the federal government.
Mr. Bellone credited the bus drivers for reporting to work at the onset of the pandemic, back when the science wasn’t yet clear on how the virus transmits from one person to another and the potential risks. He said they took risks as essential employees to keep the economy going.
While Suffolk County has received $26 million in federal funding for public transit through the CARES Act — the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed in March — Mr. Bellone said the one-shot revenue doesn’t provide impact for 2021.
“We deal in reality here,” Mr. Bellone said when asked to respond to criticism related to that $26 million. “The facts are the facts. We have a bus system that we pay more than $40 million as a county because it’s so important.”
Mr. Bellone has repeatedly called on the federal government to pass a second stimulus bill that provides relief for local governments over the past few months. To date, no compromise has been reached between Democrats and the White House. The House approved a $3.4 trillion package in May that did not advance in the Republican-led Senate.
“We need Washington to do its job — what our national government has always done in times of crisis when local governments are hit,” Mr. Bellone said.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) held a news conference after Mr. Bellone, saying that Suffolk was already in fiscal trouble and the county executive is now using the coronavirus as an excuse.
“Look in the mirror, this is your fault,” he said. “He’s mismanaged this county.”