74° Good Afternoon
74° Good Afternoon
Long IslandNassau

MTA to trim Able-Ride bus for Nassau disabled

Eric Leefe, 46, of Old Bethpage, is helped

Eric Leefe, 46, of Old Bethpage, is helped onto an Able-Ride bus in Massapequa, Thursday. Despite being born with cerebral palsy, Leefe maintains a positive outlook on life. He has been taking Able-Ride buses for the last 20 years to and from his job at the Oyster Bay Parks Department. Recent cuts to the Able-Ride budget may eliminate his ride and with it, his livelihood. (March 25, 2010) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Able-Ride, the door-to-door bus service for disabled Nassau residents, will cut more than 10 percent of its nearly 400,000 annual rides in an effort to slash its budget by $1.2 million, officials said Thursday.

Most of the changes take effect on April 12 and leave some communities with virtually no public transportation for the disabled, officials said. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved the changes Wednesday as part of $93 million in regional cuts.

The move would transform the system from a door-to-door service for all of Nassau to one that hews to existing routes on Long Island Bus, which runs Able-Ride. The system's 89 buses and four sedans will no longer make pickups or drop-offs more than three-quarters of a mile from an existing bus route. Places such as Bayville, Oyster Bay and Syosset, which have few bus lines, would face the worst cuts.

For those who can ride regular buses, Able-Ride plans soon to cease door-to-door service and give rides only to bus stops. Some rides will be approved on a case-by-case basis for those whose disability limits them in cold weather.

Long Island Bus officials said the cuts were regrettable but defended them as needed in a time of "economic crisis." The MTA's budget problems were compounded by Nassau County's funding cut for Long Island Bus this year, officials said in a March 10 letter to riders.

"Because of this unexpected loss of revenue, it has become necessary for us to implement the following action," the unsigned letter said.

Able-Ride passengers make reservations in advance for rides that cost $3.75. Ridership rose to a record 395,000 last year, up 12 percent from 2007.

Thursday, riders and their advocates were still trying to figure out the impact.

Those hit the hardest could be people like Eric Leefe, 46, of Old Bethpage who uses Able-Ride to get to work as a mail clerk for the Town of Oyster Bay in Massapequa. "Able-Ride is my lifeline," Leefe said.

Aaron Liebowitz, executive director of Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities, a nonprofit medical and recreational center in Bethpage, said Able-Ride has helped countless disabled and elderly people fashion independent lives.

"Without that service, they're going to be locked into their homes," Liebowitz said. "They're going to be under house arrest."

Jerry Mikorenda, a spokesman for Long Island Bus, said drivers would have some discretion for making pickups and drop-offs a little more than three-quarters of a mile from a bus line. "We're going to use common sense," he said.

The cuts will have hidden taxpayer costs, said Robert McGuire, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy. Those who can no longer take Able-Ride will still get transportation to day programs, but it will be paid for by Medicaid and cost $50 a ride.

Three who are affected by Able-Ride cuts

Eric Leefe remembers when there was no Able-Ride. He used to advertise in the newspaper for someone to drive him and his wheelchair to and from his job as a mail clerk for the Town of Oyster Bay.

After 20 years of taking Able-Ride Leefe, 46, of Old Bethpage, now believes he lives too far from an existing bus line to qualify under new rules going into effect April 12.

"If I don't have Able-Ride, I won't be able to get to work," he said.

Evan Skidmore, 28, of Syosset, is a senior sociology major at Hofstra University who has cerebral palsy. Able-Ride service will likely be cut on April 12.

Without the ride, completion of his college career is in jeopardy, he said in an e-mail.

"Since I cannot get to a public bus and cannot drive I will not be able to attend the last month of classes and will not be able to take my final exams," he said. "My dream of earning a degree will be destroyed."

Pablo Cruz, 61, a former factory worker now on disability, of Oyster Bay uses Able-Ride to get to his dialysis treatments in Syosset. The MTA cuts could force him to ride a taxi, costing him $192 a month, compared with $90 a month for Able-Ride.

He could face a choice between paying for transportation or for medicine and food, Cruz said. "I don't have money to pay transportation, like a taxi or anything," he said, adding: "What can I do?"