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Fare hike for Suffolk County Transit considered

Suffolk commuters soon may pay up to 50 percent more to ride a bus, as county officials are considering the first fare hike for Suffolk County Transit in nearly two decades, county officials said Wednesday.

Revenue from the hike, which would raise the base fare from $1.50 to as much as $2.25, would be used to add Sunday bus service for the first time in the agency's 30-year history, officials said.

"It's not so much something we're doing to them, as much as we're doing it for them," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who first proposed the fare hike in March. "It's important to understand that the riders of the bus have been begging for Sunday service and they have indicated a willingness to pay a little more for it."

The Sunday service is envisioned as part of a long-term plan to improve Suffolk County Transit. Later this month, the county is expected to release the full plan, which may include provisions for expanded routes, fine-tuned schedules and GPS-equipped buses.

The county held hearings on possible fare hikes in Hauppauge and Riverhead in June that were attended by fewer than 50 people total, county officials said.

If Suffolk County Transit's base fare rose to $2.25, it would match the fare now paid by riders of Nassau's Long Island Bus, which is owned by the county but operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But in Nassau, recent fare increases were coupled with service cutbacks that included elimination of some bus routes.

Schneiderman said he believes a Suffolk Transit increase to $2 is more realistic. He said the increases could be implemented as early as next month, but possibly would be rolled out later for seniors, students and the disabled.

Suffolk County Accessible Transit - the county's bus system for the disabled - could see its fares increase from $3 to as much as $3.75 under the plan.

Suffolk's transportation director, Robert Shinnick, said Sunday bus service would cost about $3 million. He said it wasn't clear whether a fare hike, alone, would generate enough added revenue to cover the cost, especially when an increase is bound to drive off some customers.

"I think riders understand that there could be a need for some increase, but I think if it goes a little too far, we're going to lose riders - definitely more than we should," said Shinnick.

Schneiderman said he believes the cost of adding Sunday service is closer to $2 million, and that a 50-cent fare increase would more than cover the cost. Extra revenue would go to bus system improvements, he said.Under the plan, Schneiderman said that Suffolk would have to add some Sunday bus service by May of next year.

Ryan Lynch, spokesman for the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, applauded Suffolk for looking to expand its bus system, but said it should not do so solely on the backs of its riders.

"If this is something that the county wants to push forward - and we think they should - they need to help pay for the service and not just saddle riders with 100 percent of the cost," Lynch said.

Suffolk bus rider Rose Van Guilder, 65, of West Sayville, said the county has never needed to raise fares - and shouldn't do so now.

"The Suffolk County budget is sound," said Van Guilder, who rides the S40 bus to run errands. "They don't need to add a burden on the citizens of Suffolk County. It is not necessary."

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