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New draft plan for Suffolk County bus system to bring minimal change to East End

The East End would see few changes under a new draft plan for the Suffolk County bus system released last Wednesday.

The 92 bus route in Riverhead would be adjusted to “simplify the various deviations made” along the current route by Routes S92 and 8A. The schedule would also be adjusted to provide hourly service midday, with additional peak period trips like the current schedule.

“The 92, which runs on the North Fork is a great line. It’s not proposed to be changed at all under this plan, other than to improve the reliability of it,” said Jonathan Keyes, director of downtown and transit oriented development at Suffolk County. 

“Part of the overall plan here also looks at on-time performance and reliability so that’s something that we look forward to correcting under this new system so that the buses are arriving when the schedules say and that they’re traveling at the times when the schedules say. So that’s something riders of the 92 can look forward to,” he added.

North and southbound buses would be able to meet each other, along with buses coming from the west along Routes 58 and 66, at Riverhead County Center every hour. The pilot Southampton on-demand transit zone would become permanent and run seven days per week. 

A second on-demand transit zone would be added as well, replacing existing Routes 10B and 10C to serve the eastern end of the South Fork between East Hampton and Montauk Point.

The plan, which has taken public input into account, is part of the county’s ongoing efforts to “rethink the entire network of Suffolk County Transit bus routes” to align with resources and community interests via the Reimagine Transit initiative, according to a press release. It represents the county’s first major overhaul of its bus system in more than 40 years. 

The draft aims to improve ridership on the public transit system, which has been declining over the past decade, and provide improved reliability, higher frequencies, extended operating hours, full network service on weekends, more direct routes and timed connections for shorter wait times between transfers.

The county notes that the existing bus network is unreliable, with buses arriving on time about 40% of the time. The new plan would feature 12 routes running every 30 minutes on weekdays, something that’s only offered currently on three routes and another corridor. 

There would be fewer routes overall, however, which has been criticized for limiting accessibility, according to Newsday. The draft plan argues that higher frequency routes are more useful than spreading services because, although some people would need to walk farther to reach a bus route, they would need to wait less time to board a bus.

“The people that depend on buses usually don’t have cars and don’t have a strong public voice to explain what this does for them. It’s usually seniors, handicapped and people of limited income. This poses a tremendous burden on them,” said Ed Romaine, Town of Brookhaven supervisor and former county legislator representing the North Fork. 

Darnell Tyson, deputy commissioner of the county’s department of public works, said the county has offered a paratransit service since 2016, offering one vehicle from Amityville to Montauk. It will not be affected by the draft plan. Anyone unable to use the existing transit network can apply for eligibility through the county Office of Disabilities.

Suffolk County Accessible Transportation is provided for applicants with permanent or temporary disabilities who can’t use transit buses without assistance or because routes are not accessible. 

“If you are eligible for paratransit, you are then able to call and book a trip. That practice has been in place for years and will continue through the implementation of the new system,” Mr. Tyson said.

Most routes would run from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, rather than 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. There would also be buses running on Sundays every hour between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., a service that isn’t offered at all on most routes that day.

“When reviewing these maps, remember that waiting time counts. In most cases, a longer walk to a high-frequency route can get people farther and faster than a shorter walk to an infrequent route,” the plan says. “Also remember that some of the access shown in these maps isn’t reached on a single route but requires a transfer … Frequent service is more expensive relative to the area it covers, but is more useful by offering travel times more competitive with driving and therefore tends to attract higher ridership.”

The county estimates that the average resident will be able to reach 48% more employment centers and other opportunities within an hour via public transit under the proposed redesign. Low-income residents will have access to 59% more employment opportunities, residents without cars will have access to 53% more job opportunities and communities of color will have access to 67% more employment, according to a press release. 

All routes will connect with train stations, Mr. Keyes said. “Part of the way this network is set up is with these sort of pulse points. They’re timed connections where multiple buses all meet and we’ve located five of those pulse points at train stations as well so there’s connectivity to the trains.”

The pulse points are located in Riverhead, Patchogue, Bayshore, Brentwood and Central Islip, he added.

“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,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a press release. “Through the Reimagine Transit initiative, we are working to create a transportation network that is far more useful for residents, workers, and visitors.”

The initiative was launched in September 2020. The draft plan was funded by a $350,000 grant through the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. 

Timed transfers will occur at Brentwood, Bay Shore, Central Islip, Smith Haven Mall, Patchogue and Riverhead, according to a press release. Schedules will be regularly updated. 

The county also launched an online interactive tool about the transit network, with a survey for public feedback. 

The plan is to collect public input for the next two months and finalize the draft this summer, with the goal to implement the new system over the summer of 2023, according to Mr. Keyes. 

There will be virtual community meetings on March 30 and March 31. More information is available at connectli.org/RTDraftNewNetwork.html.