Thanks to increased transportation funding in the recently approved state budget, Suffolk County Transit will get about $2 million more than it had planned for the fiscal year that began April 1. Used to fund a one-year test of increased Sunday bus service in the county, that money could make a real difference in the lives of many residents.
The county has Sunday service only on two East End routes and only in the summer. That service was added for six weeks in 2012, pushed by Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), and it proved a huge success, providing 8,674 rides on six Sundays and a few holidays. That East End Sunday service is already set to be expanded to cover the whole summer this year.
In a county facing a $250-million budget deficit, it's tempting to stick this extra $2 million from the state in the general fund, but the extra cash, derived from a tax on the transmission of electrical power for the next five years, is better used for the purpose the state intended it: supporting public transportation. The money is a drop in the bucket in terms of the county's deficit but could make a big difference to riders, expanding Sunday service on as many as 10 of Suffolk's busiest routes. And if Suffolk wants to keep getting a strong bus stipend from the state, it must show state lawmakers it's willing to use the money as intended.
For the people most dependent on Suffolk County Transit, often the working poor, life doesn't shut down on Sundays. Riders still need to travel, shop and most important, get to work and back. In that sense, the service is as crucial to employers and consumers as it is to the workers who serve them. It makes sense to frame the expansion as a test run: When making permanent decisions, it is always better to have data. But if the demand is there, the countywide Sunday bus service ought to be supported and continued.