Suffolk County plans to eliminate nine bus routes serving more than 400 daily riders in October as it looks for ways to close a looming $78 million deficit, county officials said Thursday.
The cuts — among the deepest in the 36-year history of Suffolk County Transit — include the elimination of routes serving Stony Brook University, the Lindenhurst Long Island Rail Road station and the Riverhead County Center. The changes are scheduled to take effect Oct. 3.
County officials said some remaining bus lines will adjust their routes to serve riders on discontinued lines.
At the Great South Bay Shopping Center in Lindenhurst on Thursday, Patricia Conde, 71, was devastated to hear that the S35 bus she routinely takes to do her shopping may disappear.
“It’s unfair for the seniors and for the poor people that don’t have cars,” said Conde of Lindenhurst. “What will I do? I’ll have to take a taxi.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said public works officials scrutinized every transit route to identify where they could achieve “the biggest savings with the lowest impact.”
The busiest route on the chopping block, serving the Town of Brookhaven, carries 159 daily riders. The least-used route, the 10 D/E serving Hampton Bays, carries 12 riders a day.
Because so few riders use the routes, they can cost the county $80 per rider a year or more to operate, officials said.
“We’ve reached a point where we have no alternative but to make cuts as we deal with an ongoing fiscal issue,” Bellone said. “We’re committed to public transportation, but we also have to address the financial realities of the county.”
Bellone said the cuts were necessary as growing transit operating costs threatened to push the county’s subsidy of its bus system to $36 million — an “unsustainable” amount for the county, which has projected a $78 million deficit this year.
Bellone emphasized that, even with the cuts, which are expected to save Suffolk $4 million a year, the county’s $30 million annual contribution to its transit system is well above what other counties in the state pay, including Nassau, which in recent years has contributed about $6 million to its bus system. Nassau is kicking in an extra $3 million this year to restore several routes eliminated in January.
But while Nassau receives about $66 million a year in state transit aid, Suffolk gets only $26 million. State lawmakers have said Nassau gets more because it carries about four times as many daily riders as Suffolk’s 22,000.
Bellone said further cuts next year may be necessary if there is no increase in state aid.
The office of State Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
When the county originally proposed $10 million in bus cuts last fall, while pushing the state for a $10 million boost in aid, Flanagan shot down the request and criticized the county for the “inappropriate” tactic.
Aaron Watkins-Lopez, of the nonprofit Long Island Bus Riders Union, called on the county to hold off on the cuts, which will only save Suffolk about $1 million this year, while impacting hundreds of residents.
“You’re going to leave people stranded in the middle of winter for a million dollars?” Watkins-Lopez said.
Public hearings on the cuts will be held Sept. 8 at 3 p.m. at the Suffolk Legislative Auditorium in Hauppauge and Sept. 9 at 3 p.m. at the Legislative Auditorium in Riverhead.