Suffolk urged to use aid for Sunday buses

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Transit advocates and a Suffolk lawmaker are pushing the county to use $1.5 million in new state transit aid to add Sunday service on some county bus routes.

The 2012-13 state budget approved last month included increases in aid for county public transportation agencies throughout the state, including $1.5 million in new funds for Suffolk County Transit.

The boost in funding comes just as Suffolk's 22,000 daily bus riders are preparing for their first systemwide fare increases since 1992. On most lines, fares will jump from $1.50 to $2 on May 1.

When Suffolk lawmakers proposed the hike late last year, they said it was necessary in order to generate a needed $1 million in new fare revenue.

In a letter to county legislators sent last month, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said the new state aid represented an opportunity for riders to "get more for their increased transportation costs."

"Recognizing that fares have not been raised in two decades, [we have] not opposed the fare hike proposal, but we do believe that riders should get something more for their money," the nonprofit group wrote in its letter.

The group called on the county to use the new funding to add Sunday service on more routes. Currently, only two lines -- the S92 and 10C -- offer Sunday service, and only during summer months.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who chairs the Legislature's transportation committee, said he agrees with the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and will introduce a bill at the April 24 legislative meeting to direct the funds toward expanded Sunday bus service.

Schneiderman said he believes the $1.5 million could pay for year-round Sunday service on as many as 15 lines. But, with Suffolk eyeing a $530 million budget gap by 2013, he expects some resistance to his plan.

"They are going to say that we've got a $500 million hole to close and every extra million helps," Schneiderman said. "But we need to keep this money in the bus system and provide a service that we should have been providing all along."

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Schneiderman said expanded Sunday service is "the No. 1 request" from riders.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone did not respond to requests for comment, but a spokeswoman noted that even with the new $1.5 million, Suffolk County Transit is still receiving about $631,000 less in state aid than it did in 2008-09.

The county gets about $22 million in state aid for its bus system, which has an annual budget of about $57 million.

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