Suffolk County wants to spend $2 million in new state transit aid to expand its bus system, including by adding buses on one of its busiest lines, launching a new route along Route 109, and creating an on-demand ride-sharing service on the East End.
The proposals to expand Suffolk County Transit were explored this week at a series of public hearings in Smithtown and Riverhead, where county officials and residents were excited about the possibilities for the suburban bus system serving 15,000 riders daily.
Suffolk Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor) called the additional $2 million for Suffolk County Transit, which has a $70 million annual budget, “a very, very welcome increase in state funding.”
“We are using that limited increase to try to be smart and responsive to community concerns, and to sort of bolster what is already working and to try to explore alternative ways to approaching transportation for places where the current system just isn’t working at all,” Fleming said.
Following the “micro-transit” trend that has been adopted in communities throughout the United States — including by Nassau’s NICE Bus — Suffolk is looking to use a portion of the new state aid to establish a ride-sharing pilot program in the Town of Southampton, where customers could use a mobile app to request a trip within a designated service area.
The user would be directed to a “virtual bus stop,” where they would be picked up by a small bus or van transporting other riders, and dropped off at their destination, county officials said. The service would cater to communities with little or no dedicated bus routes.
Another proposal would establish a new bus route along Route 109 between the Babylon Long Island Rail Road station and Farmingdale station. The route aims to supplement NICE’s n72 route, which has reduced service in recent years.
Suffolk also is proposing to expand its s66 route, which runs between Patchogue and Riverhead. Despite consistently being among the county’s five busiest routes, buses run just once an hour, and stop operating by about 6:30 p.m. The new plan would increase service to every half-hour and extend hours until 8:30 p.m.
Waiting at an s66 stop in Riverhead, Annette Johnson of Smithtown expressed skepticism about the potential improvements.
“It sounds like a good thing, but even so, it’s probably going to end up the way it is now,” said Johnson, 50, who has been riding Suffolk County Transit buses for about three years. “Suffolk County buses are never on time. We wait hours for these buses in the rain, in the snow, in the heat . . . It’s just a horrible experience taking Suffolk County buses — and not just one line. All of the lines.”
Still, county officials have said their transit has made strides in recent years, including with the adoption of a new fare payment system and a mobile app that tells riders how far away their bus is.
“I think we’ve come a long way in the last year,” said Lisa Black, deputy county executive for Suffolk, which three years ago resorted to cutting eight of its busiest routes in order to shrink a $10 million budget deficit. “Obviously, I think we’ve recovered. There’s always a need for improvement, and we continue to advocate for additional funding to support those gaps. We were successful this year.”
County officials said they expect the new services to be in place by the first quarter of 2020.