His persistence on East End buses pays off

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman. (Feb. 5, 2008)

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman. (Feb. 5, 2008) (Credit: Patrick Oehler)

Rick Brand

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Call Suffolk Legis. Jay Schneiderman the little bus that could.

After seven years of trying, the Montauk Independence Party lawmaker Sunday will see his crusade to make seven-day bus service a reality on the East End, and he and co-sponsor Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) will ride one of the first Sunday buses.

Over those years, Schneiderman made at least a half dozen separate proposals to expand Suffolk's six-day bus service in effect countywide since the 1970s. Schneiderman also pressed for a consultant study, which recommended seven-day service for 24 county bus routes.

Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said "without a doubt" it was Schneiderman's determination that finally won out.

A pilot project will provide Sunday service on the county's most heavily traveled summer bus route -- the S-92. That route runs from Orient to East Hampton and will serve riders who now have to taxi or hitch rides on Sundays and holidays. It will also provide service on the C-10 feeder route that goes to Montauk.

The catch is that the year-round fare for all riders who use the routes on weekdays and Sunday will be $2 per ride -- 50 cents higher than other county bus riders pay -- to finance the extra summertime service.

"I've known it's a problem since I was [East Hampton] town supervisor because we have a workforce on the East End dependent on public transportation and you could see so many people hitching rides on Sundays," Schneiderman said. Sunday buses are backed by riders and businesses whose workers often live far away because the Hamptons are expensive, he said.

But he acknowledged that efforts to create a new service, especially in an economic downturn, were tough. "When I first started pushing, I got nowhere," Schneiderman said. "It was always the same thing, 'How are we going to pay for it?' "

Despite the higher cost, Schneiderman emphasized Suffolk's bus fares have remained unchanged for nearly 20 years and, even at the higher rate, are still 25 cents below Nassau County's. He also said the fare hike on the East End route does not affect discounts for students, the elderly, or people with disabilities.

The alternatives, transit advocates say, are far more costly. "It's a sad situation that there's no cheap cab ride on the East End. It would cost $55 to go from Riverhead to Southampton Town Hall," said Vince Taldone, board member of Five Rural Town Transit, an advocacy group that backs the initiative.

County Executive Steve Levy said he long opposed Sunday service because of the additional cost to riders who might not use the service. "These are lower-income people and I feared a dramatic increase was too much to bear," he said. But Levy, who signed the bill, said he was surprised that his survey of nearly 600 riders found that 80 percent supported the proposal. "The ridership is demanding it, so let's see how it turns out." Levy said.

Backers say they hope the East End pilot project will lead to Sunday service in other parts of Suffolk. Groups like the Long Island Federation of Labor, the Working Families Party, Long Island Jobs with Justice and the Welfare to Work Commission, back Sunday service throughout the county so lower-income people without cars can get to work, worship, shop and avoid isolation.

Schneiderman has now also filed a proposal to expand Sunday services to 10 "critical arteries" in Suffolk, heavily used routes that link poorer communities with major business and shopping areas. It would be financed by a 50-cent fare hike countywide.

"It's very unusual for the county to add anything new in a time when the talk is usually about closing or reducing services," Schneiderman said. "But I hope there'll be no rolling back once we show that this succeeds."