Suffolk County officials have reached out to transit advocates for their input on how to enact planned bus service cuts this fall and to urge them to push for increased state funding that could help avoid further cuts in the future.
Deputy County Executive John Schneider and other county representatives on Thursday met with a half-dozen transit advocates in Hauppauge to update them on the county’s plan to cut $3 million from Suffolk County Transit and to gather feedback on “the best ways to implement any sort of reductions,” Schneider said.
“The message is, ‘Look, in the short term, we need to find some ways to spend less on the system,” Schneider said Friday. “It’s not a step we take lightly, and it’s not a place that we want to go.”
Suffolk last month announced plans to axe up to 20 bus routes — about 40 percent of county lines — as it searches for ways to close a projected $129.4 million county budget hole next year.
Suffolk officials said at the meeting that they will release details of the cuts in two to three weeks. Public hearings will be scheduled for late August, and the cuts would take effect in early October.
Last fall, the county proposed cutting $10 million from its bus system, unless the state agreed to contribute an extra $10 million annually. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) shot down the plan as “highly inappropriate.”
The county later scaled back the cuts to $3 million. A Flanagan spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Aaron Watkins-Lopez, a member of the non-profit Long Island Bus Riders Union, said he believes county lawmakers are still holding out hope that the state will come through with extra funding.
“I don’t think this is going to bear the fruit that Suffolk County wants,” said Watkins-Lopez, who attended the meeting. “They’re stuck playing this game of chicken, and the state has made it very clear that they’re not going to bite.”
Schneider said the meeting was not intended to rally support for increased state aid as a way to avoid the proposed cuts, but said “in the long-term,” the county will need more help from the state to continue providing adequate transit service.
Schneider noted that, even after the $3 million cut, Suffolk’s $30 million annual subsidy of 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. It 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 $26 million. State lawmakers have said Nassau gets more because it carries about 4 times as many daily riders as Suffolk’s 22,000.
Steven Cuozzo, an advocate for Suffolk’s disabled community who attended the Thursday meeting, said the county is “pointing fingers” at the state while shirking its own responsibility.
“It’s always easy to put the blame somewhere else,” said Cuozzo, who expects the October bus cuts to be painful. “There’s no way that’s not going to affect a tremendous amount of people.”