Suffolk deal expands Sunday, evening bus service

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone reached a deal with lawmakers Tuesday to expand Sunday and evening service on several bus routes.

The county will use $1.1 million of about $2 million in new state transit aid for Sunday and evening Suffolk County Transit service. A resolution previously proposed by Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) called for using the entire $2 million to expand bus service, but Bellone had said the county needed to get "the most out of every taxpayer dollar" as it faces a $250 million deficit through the end of 2014.

As part of the deal, Suffolk officials will apply for a matching federal grant that could generate another $1 million to be used for expanding Sunday and evening buses.

Suffolk currently provides Sunday bus service only on two East End routes and only during summer months.

Schneiderman, who pushed for additional bus service for years, said the compromise meets the needs of the county as well as those of riders.

"This is an incremental change, but for those who use this system, it will be monumental to have that service," Schneiderman said at a meeting of the county public works committee, which unanimously approved the amended bill.

"This resolution is a step forward to expand bus service while cutting our deficit," Bellone said in a statement. "Expanding bus service helps take cars off the road and provides opportunity and access for thousands of Suffolk County residents."

Supporters of the bill have said adding bus service will allow low-income workers to save money by taking a bus on Sundays instead of a taxi, and put that money back into the county.

"Students, workers and community members that do not own a car will have the opportunity to take advantage of one more day of public transportation," said Ana Giraldo, an organizer for the Long Island Bus Riders Union, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Schneiderman directed public works officials to prioritize routes with low-income customers, high Saturday ridership, and connections to other transit, such as the Long Island Rail Road.

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The public works committee blocked a resolution to reduce a fare increase for disabled bus riders to 50 cents from the planned $1 increase.

The cost of a Suffolk County Accessible Transit ride will climb to $4 from $3 on May 15 -- the first fare hike in two decades.

The committee decided to put off a vote, effectively defeating the bill because the committee won't meet again before the $1 increase takes effect.

Marilyn Tucci, a blind SCAT customer and spokeswoman for the Suffolk Independent Living Organization, said she was disappointed. "They don't understand the impact that this has on the disabled community," she said.

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