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Long Island bus riders demand state funding to restore cuts


Nassau and Suffolk public bus riders gathered at the Babylon Long Island Rail Road station Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, to rally against recent and proposed service cuts and to urge the state to step up funding for local transit.  Credit: News 12 Long Island / News 12 Long Island

Bus riders in Nassau and Suffolk rallied Wednesday to urge lawmakers to step up transit funding in order to restore recent service cuts.

About 50 bus riders and advocates — many of them disabled — gathered at the Long Island Rail Road’s Babylon station to promote a four-point plan to save several routes that either have been eliminated or are pegged for elimination.

The plan includes an emergency appropriation from the state, increased investment from Nassau and Suffolk counties, a dedicated portion of any forthcoming federal infrastructure spending plan, and a commitment to earmark any tax revenues generated on Long Island through ride-sharing services, such as Uber, to local transit systems, and not to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“It’s time that we stop sending money to New York City and funding their bus system and subway system when our bus riders are being left out in the cold . . . in snow piles taller than their heads,” said Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer for the nonprofit Long Island Bus Riders Union.

The rally came less than a week after Nassau County approved a plan to eliminate 10 routes on the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE, in April in order to fill a $6.8 million budget gap. In October, Suffolk County Transit cut eight routes in order to save $4 million.

Lawmakers in both counties have asked the state for help in creating a dedicated revenue stream to fund their growing transit costs, including through a so-called “Uber tax” or through a portion of the existing payroll mobility tax, which is used to fund the MTA.

Representatives for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) did not immediately respond for comment. But state lawmakers have previously noted that the state’s funding levels for local transit agencies remains at record high levels, as the counties have decreased funding for their own transit systems.

Still, Suffolk bus rider Marilyn Tucci said she believes the state could be doing more, especially considering it recently spent $8 million on “I Love NY” promotional highway signs.

“What is wrong with our politicians? . . . We need that money for buses,” said Tucci, who is blind and works for the Suffolk Independent Living Organization. “I love New York, too. And I’d like to stay in New York.”

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