Ron Perry, of Freeport, boards a Able-Ride bus outside the...

Ron Perry, of Freeport, boards a Able-Ride bus outside the South Shore Dialysis Center in Bellmore. (March 5, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

MTA cuts to Long Island Bus would have devastating consequences for Nassau's Able-Ride bus service, potentially leaving hundreds of disabled people without a way to travel - even for essential medical appointments or work.

As many as 18 percent, or about 200, of Able-Ride's 1,130 daily riders no longer would be eligible for door-to-door paratransit service beginning in July if the proposed service cuts are made, MTA officials said. Able-Ride only operates where there is a fixed LI Bus Route.

If the route cuts go through, riders would not be able to schedule Able-Ride trips starting or ending in most parts of Elmont, Levittown, Massapequa, Amityville, Woodbury, Bethpage, Bellmore and Hicksville.

"For many people with disabilities, this is the sole option . . . If they don't have Able-Ride available to them, it means forgoing anything in their life that's out in the community, whether it's school, socialization, family," said Therese Brzezinski, spokeswoman for the Long Island Center for Independent Living in Levittown, a nonprofit. "They end up being trapped in their own home."

The possibility of drastic cutbacks to Able-Ride comes only nine months after a $1.2-million trim to Able-Ride's budget put the brakes on service to at least 9 percent of its riders. Under that change - with the MTA then also citing the need for Nassau to pay more of LI Bus' cost - the paratransit service halted door-to-door service to origins or destinations more than three-quarters of a mile from an existing bus route.

 

Takes Able-Ride to dialysis

Ron Perry of Freeport uses Able-Ride to get home from thrice-weekly dialysis appointments. A son-in-law drives him to South Shore Dialysis Center in Bellmore before 5 a.m., and the service returns him home in the late morning, when family members are at work.

"During the week, you have people lined up in wheelchairs waiting because they don't have a ride," said Perry, 74, just before boarding an Able-Ride bus Saturday after undergoing dialysis.

Perry pays $3.75 for one-way Able-Ride service - compared with the $15 cost of a taxi from Bellmore to his Freeport home.

Lori Scharff, who is blind, uses Able-Ride five days a week to get from her Malverne home to her job at Catholic Charities in Hicksville. She said to continue going to work, she may have to be dropped off by Able-Ride more than a mile from her job, then walk or take a cab.

"It will make my commute a lot longer, time-wise, and it will also make my commute more expensive," said Scharff, 37. "But if I have to do it, I have to do it. I have to get to work. I don't have a choice."

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates LI Bus and Able-Ride, announced last week that it intends to eliminate more than half of LI Bus routes, blaming funding shortfalls from Nassau County, which owns the bus services. MTA officials say Nassau, which contributes $9.1 million to LI Bus' $140-million annual budget, is obligated to support its bus system just as other counties in the state do.

"This is an unfortunate situation that exists only in Nassau County and we were left to make very difficult choices," MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said in a statement.

Brian Nevin, spokesman for County Executive Edward Mangano, called the MTA's action "shameful" and said Nassau remains prepared to turn LI Bus and Able-Ride over to a private operator that could provide "high-quality, fixed-route and paratransit bus services for all residents." Mangano last week at a news conference had said he expects to make a decision on whether to do so over the next several weeks.

Riders affected in the earlier cuts included residents of Bayville, Glen Cove, Hicksville, Old Bethpage, Plainview, Oyster Bay, Syosset and Westbury.

 

Call to put politics aside

Nassau Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), who is spearheading the movement to restore Able-Ride services to all customers in Nassau, said the latest proposed reductions are "inconceivable." She said everyone must put politics aside and work toward a solution that could include help from taxi companies.

At South Shore Dialysis Center in Bellmore, operations manager and co-owner Joseph Maggio said about 20 patients use Able-Ride for transport. The center also has a Hempstead location, where about 10 dialysis patients could be affected, depending on the final outcome of service cuts, Maggio said.

"You can't cut the service and have no plans in place," Maggio said. "They [patients] have enough things to worry about and . . . it's not going to make their medical condition any better with the stress of wondering 'How am I going to get there?' That's a difficult position to put somebody in."

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