Eliminating eight Suffolk bus routes will confine some disabled people to their homes, force workers to quit their jobs and keep college students from enrolling in classes, several bus riders said as they spoke out Thursday against the county’s proposed service cuts.
About 50 people turned out to the first of two public hearings, this one at the Evans K. Griffing Building in Riverhead, on the plan to ax the eight Suffolk County Transit routes next month — a cost-cutting measure that aims to save the county $4 million a year.
A second public hearing is scheduled for Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the W.H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge.
The routes slated for elimination are the 1B, 5A, 7D/E, 10A, 10D/E, S35, S71 and S90. The cuts would take effect Oct. 3.
Speakers included blind riders, who rely on the routes because they cannot drive; Suffolk County Community College students, who use the buses to get to school; and elected officials and business leaders worried about the impact on their communities’ economies.
Bea Roberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, was surrounded by 10 neighbors at the podium as she implored county officials at the hearing to keep the 5A — the only route serving her community.
“At a time when we should be providing improved service, eliminating routes seems counterproductive.”
Suffolk officials have said the cuts are necessary as they look for ways to come up with $34 million to run the system without any additional help from the state.
At the hearing, Suffolk Public Works Deputy Commissioner Darnell Tyson emphasized the county targeted routes with low ridership but high costs to taxpayers. One route, the 10D/E, serves just 12 riders a day.
“This is a place we don’t want to be at. But what I think we tried to do is come up with a defensible, logical way to make these things happen,” Tyson said. “I’m not going to say it’s not going to affect anybody. It’s going to affect some folks. But it will affect the fewest number that we could.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who fought to expand Suffolk bus service in his previous job as a county legislator, blasted the county’s “flawed” plan, which he said unfairly targeted routes in his town, because ridership can be low outside of the summer months. Three of the routes on the chopping block run through Southampton.
“This is bad for Suffolk County. It’s bad for the economy. It’s balancing the budget on the backs of some of the poorest people in the county,” Schneiderman said. “And it’s the wrong thing to do.”
The county has said it will consider restoring some service if it gets a boost in state funding next year. It’s also going forward with other initiatives to improve service, including installing GPS on buses and creating an app to allow riders to track their bus.
Ridge bus rider Brian Rossi, who is blind, questioned the county’s priorities.
“What’s the point of that [the app] if you don’t have a bus to use it for?” Rossi asked.