By Stephen J. Kotz
The eastbound trade parade crawled along County Road 39 in Southampton on Friday morning as Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming of Sag Harbor led a small delegation to a nearly deserted S92 bus stop.
The bus line, which winds its way from the ferry dock at Orient Point on the North Fork, through Riverhead and then along the South Fork, with stops in Southampton, Sag Harbor and East Hampton, was running late for its scheduled 10:30 a.m. stop.
Ms. Fleming, accompanied by a staffer and a couple of reporters, was on a fact-finding mission on this, Car Free Day, to call attention to the challenges facing those who depend on the county’s sporadic bus service to get to work, go to school or run errands, from grocery shopping to doctor’s appointments.
“The first stress is you have to remember to have exact change,” Ms. Fleming said as members in her party fumbled to find the right combination of $1 bills and change to pay the $2.25 adult fare. “The second stress is you have to be on time.”
And another source of stress for riders, she said, is knowing their buses can sometimes arrive a little ahead of schedule, leaving them behind, or, as is more often the case, arrive up to a half hour behind schedule. “If you can’t rely on the bus to be on time,” she said, “your employer can’t rely on you to be on time.”
Soon after arriving at the bus stop, which is across the busy highway from the Lobster Inn and reached via a thin, if well worn, dirt path from the gas station at the corner of Hill Station Road, Ms. Fleming encountered Bryan Atancuri, a 17-year-old senior at Southampton High School. Bryan was taking advantage of a day off from school to work extra hours at the Carvel ice cream shop in Bridgehampton.
“I get here half hour early to catch the bus,” he said, but sometimes, it arrives a full half hour late. “I call and tell them I won’t be able to make it on time. My boss is very understanding.”
Bryan, who is active in Key Club, the Latino Culture Club, year book, stage crew and other activities, would like to attend college at SUNY-New Paltz next year, just to get away from Long Island for awhile. He works at least 20 hours a week during the school year and up to 70 hours a week to save money for school and to buy a car, so he won’t have to rely on the bus forever.
The ride, which only costs him $1.25 each way because he is a student, takes as little as a half hour to as long as an hour and a half, if traffic is heavy.
And when he comes home after dark, Bryan said he has to make a mad dash across the road, That doesn’t bother him so much, he said, but he worries about his mother, who also relies on the bus and has ailing knees. “A crosswalk would be nice,” he said.
Grace Chris also rides the bus regularly. Getting to and from the stop, “you take your lives in your own hands,” she said. Ms. Chris said she has complained about the danger, but to no avail. For someone without a car, there are no other options, with cab fare from Southampton Village to her home in Shinnecock Hills about $20, she said.
As the bus headed east, it turned into Southampton Village, making its way along Main Street before jogging south to Southampton Hospital, which is often a busy stop.
On this Friday morning, most of the 15 or so riders who had been onboard had disembarked by the time Bryan got off in Bridgehampton, leaving one passenger, a man who kept to himself in the rear of the bus.
It’s a different story on the early eastbound buses or the westbound runs after the working day when its standing room only, said the driver, John Amarosa.
Ms. Fleming said approximately 4.6 million people ride the county buses each year. That works out to about 12,600 people a day. The S92 carries about 380,000 people, or about 1,040 people a day. That works out to about 8 percent of the total.
By contrast, when Ms. Fleming transferred to the 10B, which runs between Springs and Bridgehampton, there were only a couple of riders.
Last year, as it sought to plug a budget shortfall, the county eliminated eight little used lines, including the 10A, which went from the Stony Brook Southampton campus through Noyac to North Haven. That route only carried about 20 passengers a day, at an average cost of more than $50 a ride.
In the wake of those cuts, Ms. Fleming helped create a transportation working group that has met monthly to discuss concerns about service, including ways to tweak routes to make them more efficient. The first-term legislator said she had met with County Executive Steve Bellone and would meet with Geoff Lynch of the Hampton Jitney, whose company manages several of the county’s bus lines, to discuss ways to improve service.
The most important issue, she said, is to win more funding for transportation. “We need a well-organized, robust lobbying effort to get a larger share of state funding,” she said, noting that Nassau County gets a much larger share of MTA tax money to run its own service and hopes that the county might get a share of the fees the state is collecting from Uber and other ride-sharing services that has yet to materialize.
For starters, Ms. Fleming said the county has earmarked $350,000 for a traffic safety of the western portion of County Road 39 and is currently undertaking a broader, countywide transportation study.
“It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing,” said Ms. Fleming. “If we had a more reliable public transportation system, there would be more riders.”
New Mobile App For Suffolk Buses
Suffolk County announced this week the creation of a new mobile app for riders of Suffolk County Transit buses called TransLoc Rider that will provide reliable updates on bus locations and estimated arrival times, helping riders better manage their bus transportation. An interactive web page version of the application, sct.transloc.com, is also available for those who do not have smart phones.
To make its 45 bus routes more efficient, the county is working on new schedules that more accurately reflect running times and travel patterns of riders.
“Twenty years ago, the idea of having an interactive bus schedule in the palm of your hand that could provide you with real-time updates on arrivals and departures was nearly unfathomable,” said County Executive Steve Bellone in a press release. “By embracing new technological advancements and understanding the needs of our residents, Suffolk County has changed the game when it comes to transportation innovation.”
The county is also exploring the feasibility of additional fare payment methods to supplement the cash payments that are now accepted. The aim is to allow customers to pay their fares using their handheld devices on the fare boxes recently installed on all buses.
Suffolk County residents can download the app from the Google Play Store under “TransLoc Rider” or by visiting Mr. Bellone’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/stevenbellone.