Suffolk County will cut 10 to 20 bus routes that serve an average of 1,500 people a day after state lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would have increased state funds for county buses, officials said Monday.
Routes with low ridership will be eliminated in September to save $3 million for the remainder of 2016, Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson said. Other lines could see frequency of service reduced. The final list of cuts is expected to be released this week and hearings will be held this summer to notify the public.
There are about 50 county bus routes.
County Executive Steve Bellone, in his 2016 budget, cut $10 million in bus and transportation services for the disabled. Bellone said he hoped state lawmakers would ride to the rescue, but transportation advocates decried the cuts as a gamble that could end badly for low-income riders.
Anderson said the $10 million in county cuts was reduced to about $3 million because of lower-than-expected gasoline and diesel costs and a federal grant for Suffolk County Accessible Transportation. He said he did not believe there would be cuts to services for disabled riders.
Bills in the State Legislature sponsored by Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) and Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury), that would have diverted MTA payroll taxes to Suffolk failed to make it out of committee before the session ended Saturday.
Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), a co-sponsor, said other lawmakers felt the proposal should have been part of the state’s budget process, which wrapped up in early April. Also, lawmakers were concerned “if we do it for Suffolk, we’re going to have to do it for other areas,” Thiele said.
Ramos, Martins and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) did not return calls for comment Monday. In October, Flanagan called Suffolk’s effort to secure more state funding by threatening cuts “highly inappropriate.”
Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer for the advocacy group Long Island Bus Riders Union, said the cuts would set back recent progress Suffolk has made in expanding service to Sundays and later into the evening.
“It’s abhorrent and disheartening to see them cut so many routes,” he said.
Suffolk Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) called the failure to get more state funding, “disappointing. These cuts will come on the backs of those who can least afford it.” County lawmakers kept the transportation cuts in the budget, saying they couldn’t find alternatives.
Suffolk this year will receive $26 million in bus and disabled transportation funding from the state, compared with $66 million for Nassau’s bus system. Nassau carries about four times as many riders, but Suffolk has a similar number of lane miles, which county officials said drives up costs.
The county faces a projected $129.4 million budget deficit next year.
Eric Alexander, director of Northport-based advocacy group Vision Long Island, said the bus cuts will hurt efforts to promote economic development in downtowns for economic development.
“It clearly sends the wrong message,” he said.
A Cuomo spokesman noted that state operating aid for the county’s transportation systems increased by $1.5 million, or six percent, this year.