Disability advocates on Long Island are asking Suffolk County residents to take the bus for the next week, to help show lawmakers the importance of the public bus system.
In its campaign for improvements to Suffolk County Transit, the Suffolk Independent Living Organization (SILO) is encouraging the public to use the bus service instead of driving their cars starting Saturday as part of the “Long Island Public Bus Challenge.”
“We need fixed routes, more bus stops that are accessible and safe for all,” said Joseph Delgado, chief executive officer of SILO, said during a news conference Thursday in Holtsville. “For too long, the mentality in this county has been that this is a car county.”
Last August, Suffolk County officials said they would eliminate eight bus routes serving more than 400 daily riders to help close a $78 million deficit in the county budget.
About 40 bus riders and advocates, many of them disabled, showed their support for the campaign at the news conference, and several said the high frequency of transfers and the lack of buses are particular problems.
“When SILO was located in Ronkonkoma . . . I had to take three buses in the morning, and three at night to get home. It was an exhausting day,” said bus rider Marilyn Tussi, who also uses the Suffolk County Accessible Transportation service.
Bus riders in both Nassau and Suffolk county had held a rally to oppose transit funding cuts six months ago, organized by the Long Island Bus Riders Union. The union proposed a four-point plan that would request additional funds from the county, state, and federal level to stabilize the region’s transit system.
Efforts to increase state transit aid are making little progress, said Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning, adding that this is partly due to the way aid is distributed. Nassau County’s bus system receives nearly $40 million more from the state than Suffolk, but also carries about four times as many daily riders.
“It’s a very flawed formula,” Browning said. “We’re much larger than Nassau County . . . You can’t base it off ridership when we’re geographically so different.”
Department of Public Works officials are trying to determine how they can operate the bus system more efficiently while they make the case for more funding, said Deputy Commissioner Darnell Tyson, who showed his support for the initiative Thursday.
“The facts of the budget cuts were that we had a $34 million system that we were operating, and we only had $30 million to do it,” said Tyson. “To put in short, we’re trying to do a lot with little funds.”