A Suffolk County bus on Route S54 at the Patchogue...

A Suffolk County bus on Route S54 at the Patchogue Train Station on Nov. 12, 2020. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

A proposed redesign of Suffolk County’s transit system would increase the frequency of bus arrivals on several key routes, but also would eliminate routes in other communities, according to county officials.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone released a draft plan to Newsday this week of the Reimagine Transit initiative, which aims to give the bus system its first comprehensive overhaul in more than 40 years. Suffolk is looking to address a decline in ridership.

The county is holding a pair of virtual community meetings to discuss the plan on March 30 and March 31. Information is available at connectli.org. Suffolk hopes to have the changes in place by the summer of 2023.

Last year, the county sought the public's feedback on two models considered for the redesigned bus system: one that would distribute bus service more evenly throughout the county, and another that prioritized enhancing service where demand is the highest.

The county landed on a proposal closer to the latter option. It would quadruple the number of routes that offer buses every 30 minutes, from three to 12, and offer synchronized connections to reduce wait times at key transfer points, including Brentwood, Bay Shore, Central Islip, Smith Haven Mall, Patchogue and Riverhead.

Also under the plan, the total number of bus routes would be cut in half, from 42 to 21.

The redesign effort, which is funded by a $350,000 grant from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, would address declining ridership without increasing costs, the county said. The result, Bellone said in a statement, should be "a transportation network that is far more useful for residents, workers and visitors."

"Today’s plan reflects one of the most impactful investments we can make as a County to improve economic opportunities for residents of Suffolk by providing a high-quality transit system that expands access to opportunity, and in turn, increases the economic competitiveness of our region," Bellone said in the statement.

Jonathan Keyes, Suffolk’s director of downtown and transit-oriented development, said the improvements will require some "trade-offs." Reallocating resources at Suffolk County Transit, which has an annual operating budget of around $83 million, would mean consolidating some routes. As a result, "Some people and places would be much farther from service," according to the plan.

A map of the newly designed transit networks shows several north-south routes being eliminated, including the S23 running between the Babylon Long Island Rail Road station and Walt Whitman Shops, and the S57 between Sayville and the Smithaven Mall.

Cliff Hymowitz, a transit advocate for more than 20 years, criticized the plan for prioritizing riders who already have plentiful bus service, and snubbing those who already struggle to get around — including senior citizens and people with disabilities.

"Unfortunately, the people they’re dismissing have no voice," said Hymowitz, who expressed concern about some riders having to walk a mile to get to the nearest route. "I can walk that distance, but I’m not sure everybody can walk that distance."

Still, Keyes said, most county residents would see an increase in bus service.

"By asking someone to maybe walk a little bit further to a bus that comes more frequently, you can actually expand their transit access," said Keyes, who is heading the project.

The county estimates that the average county resident will be able to reach 48% more jobs within 60 minutes as compared to the existing bus network. The proposal also would extend operating hours on all routes, including on weekends.

It also would make permanent Southampton’s "on-demand" bus service program, launched last summer, and establish a new "on-demand" zone covering East Hampton, Amagansett and Montauk.

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