The Town Board voiced its support on Thursday for two bills offering Sunday bus service, one of which is being voted on at Tuesday's Suffolk County Legislature meeting. Both would raise bus fares 50 cents per ride in order to fund Sunday and holiday bus service.
The bill being voted on this Tuesday would offer service — and only apply fare hikes — to East End residents, to offer the S92 and 10C service routes on Sundays and holidays. Another bill, informally titled the "critical artery plan" by its sponsor, Legislator Jay Schneiderman, I-Montauk, would offer service on nine routes throughout every legislative district, and hike fares throughout the county from $1.50 to $2.00.
"The county does not recognize the population triples in warmer months, so we have the same schedule this time of year and during the summer as we do in January," said Vince Taldone, a member of the board of directors for 5 Town Rural Transit, an organization dedicated to improving public transportation on the East End. "The people who need Sunday and holiday service are overwhelmingly day workers contributing to the second home tourism economy."
According to the text of one of Schneiderman's bills, the S92 route — which travels from East Hampton to Riverhead, and then Riverhead to Orient Point — has the highest Saturday ridership in the county. The legislator said that last year, the route averaged 77,000 riders each Saturday.
Up until recently, Taldone said after his meeting with the board, commuters in Hampton Bays and Riverhead were often left on the street because the buses were filled to capacity.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to which East Enders contribute millions of dollars to annually, contributes zero tax dollars to fund Suffolk bus service, though it does subsidize Nassau County bus service.
"The MTA Payroll Tax raised a lot of eyebrows, and stirred a lot of debate about what we're not getting," said Councilman Jim Wooten.
The tax of $0.34 on every $100 of payroll — first charged in 2010 to all businesses and municipalities in New York City and seven counties surrounding it - was dubbed by many the "MTA bailout tax," especially after the authority drastically reduced services about a year ago. On the East End, service on the Greenport branch of the Long Island Rail Road was nearly eliminated, except for summer weekends, though the authority retained weekday service after local backlash.
"It's mind boggling what the East End pays for what it gets," Taldone said.
With the 50-cent raise in fare — a hike some legislators have said is too much for the population who generally use public transportation — Schneiderman's bills would completely pay for the Sunday service. However the "critical artery" plan was tabled at Tuesday's committee meeting. Schneiderman said the county Department of Public Works is looking at the bill to see if it can be improved.
Taldone said with the increase in routes, Suffolk Transit — the organization which operates buses in Suffolk — may be eligible for increased state funds, though that would be a bonus.
Some legislators, and County Executive Steve Levy, have said that increases in routes should be paid for through state or federal funds and not borne by the riders, many of whom don't have the money to pay for a 33 percent increase in fare. Taldone, Schneiderman, North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine, R-Center Moriches, and others have argued that the very same population - particularly on the East End - needs Sunday service to get to their jobs, which often require Sunday hours.
Schneiderman's last proposal, which also called for a 50-cent hike but failed to travel through each legislative district, was vetoed and was unable to gather enough votes for an override. His new proposals either travel through each district, or affect only the East End.
Schneiderman and Romaine are hosting a press conference on Friday morning at 11 at the county center in Riverside to voice support for the increase in bus service.
Correction: A prior version of this article stated that both bills were being voted on at the next Suffolk Legislature Meeting. The "critical artery" bills was tabled, not approved, at last week's Public Works and Transportation Committee meeting.