Suffolk lawmakers got a first-hand look Monday at some of the challenges faced by disabled residents as they try to get around on the county’s new fleet of smaller, more fuel-efficient buses.
Disabled riders and advocates voiced some of their concerns at a meeting of the county legislature’s Transportation and Public Works Committee, and then boarded one of the new buses with legislators as it was parked outside the county’s Riverhead legislative building.
“It’s very important, because they really have no clue what it’s like to ride these buses every day,” said Marilyn Tucci, outreach and advocacy director for the Suffolk Independent Living Organization, who is blind. “I can’t drive and I probably will never be able to drive. But I want them to understand what we’re going through. And the only way they’re going to understand is to ride these buses.”
Suffolk recently rolled out 30 new buses that are about half the size of the rest of their fleet and can carry about half as many riders. The county is using the vehicles, which they say are more efficient to operate than a full-sized bus, on routes with lower ridership.
But disabled riders have said the county failed to consider many of their needs in purchasing the new buses, which they say can be difficult to board because of the height of the entrance step, have seats that are too narrow and have insufficient legroom, have hanging straps that are too high for shorter customers to reach, and have aisles that are too narrow for some service dogs.
Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who chairs the committee, said the county public works officials are considering all the riders’ feedback, and will look for ways to address them where possible, including by adjusting strap heights. The county will also consider the riders’ input when it purchases future buses, he said.
“There’s some things they can do to make it more user-friendly and safer. And some things might not warrant [a change],” Krupski said. “If we can do a better job, why not?”
Krupski said the buses meet federal accessibility standards.
At the meeting, Suffolk Public Works Deputy Commissioner Darnell Tyson also updated legislators on several other initiatives under way to improve bus service. That includes new technology on buses that allows for real-time monitoring of the buses and counting of passengers. That information can be used to improve bus schedules and route designs, and is already being used in a recently-released mobile app that allowed riders to see when their bus is coming.
Also new fare boxes on Suffolk County Transit buses, for the first time, can differentiate between different dollar bill amounts and issue change in the form of a stored-value card. The new system could also one day be programmed to work with MTA’s forthcoming new fare system.