FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, October 10th, 2016
Organizer, Long Island Bus Riders’ Union
Bus Riders’ Pleas Fall on Deaf Ears
Suffolk County, NY— On Monday October 10th, Suffolk County cut 10 bus routes: the S71, 7D/E, 10A, 10D/E, S90, S35, 5A and 1A in an attempt to save $4 million, annually, and fill the $129.4 million county deficit. These cuts come after a month-long push from bus riders, bus drivers, Legislators, advocates and community members to postpone any cuts until 2017, citing a proposal from Suffolk County to get a system-wide onboard analysis done of all Suffolk County Transit routes.
In addition to calling on a Moratorium on the bus cuts, advocates brought several alternatives to the County’s attention, yet none were heeded. Eric Alexander, Executive Director of Vision Long Island, whose Smart Growth organization found monies that could have been used to stop the cuts had this to say:
“While the Suffolk County budget has structural deficits, there are offsets in the current County budget that could be have been made at the meeting last Wednesday, October 5th, to stave off these cuts. Unfortunately the legislature couldn’t reopen the budget at that meeting; only the County Executive could have. Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider was present at the meeting, and did petition the Legislature to act on a completely unrelated item. Several Legislators did say to the Deputy County Executive they felt that there were more important budgetary matters to address that day, including the bus cuts, however bus cuts were not brought up by the Executive’s office at the meeting.”
After weeks of public hearings, testimonies, press conferences, petitions and phone calls, many bus riders’ felt ignored and discarded by the current administration. Aaron Watkins-Lopez, Organizer of the Long Island Bus Riders’ Union and Stony Brook resident, felt confused by the cuts and the obvious disconnect between Executive Bellone’s “Connect LI” platform:
“The only thing that is more disconnected than Bellone’s ‘Connect LI’ plan, is his understanding of the wants and needs of his constituents. Over 300 people testified publicly, called and emailed his office with the clear message that they needed these buses running but, instead of listening to their pleas, the County Executive decided that the county’s deficit should be shouldered by those who are barely able to survive in Suffolk,” Watkins-Lopez lamented, “It’s disgusting.”
Jon Siebert, a resident of Mastic Shirley and a 7D/E user voice his opposition to these cuts as well:
“If the County Executive had the power to postpone these cuts until a proper analysis is complete to better understand the impacts of cuts, what improvements can be made in order to have an efficient transit system, and to better serve riders, then he should have. There is a survey ready to go soon to analyze the bus system and see what should be changed, however it comes after cutting 10 routes! That makes no sense…”
On bus rider, Paul Pressman, felt that there is a lack of commitment and empathy from Suffolk politicians to public transportation and bus riders:
“One important point is that not one political officer of the county ever took a bus, so why would they worry how it works or runs? Because it’s their job to serve the citizens who rely on the service of public transportation. The same people who voted those politicians into office and whose hard earned money pays for these county services.”
Advocates also warned that an incomplete analysis of the overall impact those cuts would have on Suffolk Communities will come back in various negative ways: approximately 30 bus drivers were slated to lose their jobs along with the bus cuts; 8 different communities, all with plans of transit-oriented revitalization, will lose vital buses; many local downtowns will lose the commerce and workforce that the buses bring in. Long Island Jobs with Justice’s Director Anita Halasz commented on these unforeseen effects:
“Efficient transportation reduces public costs that local governments often have to finance, while inefficient transportation increases these costs, and adds to local deficits. Not investing in our County’s bus system not only segregates the most underrepresented communities, but it is also fiscally irresponsible.”
Long Island Bus Riders’ Union is an organization of Nassau County bus riders and public transit advocates that supports affordable, equitable, and accessible mass transportation. The Bus Riders’ Union originated with the Coalition to Save Long Island Bus and is a project of Long Island Jobs with Justice.