Suffolk County Bus Needs to Step Up

There was a crowd of people waiting for the S66 on Friday morning, and despite the cold temperatures, everyone was in good spirits. Not so 45 minutes later. The bus never showed up. Everyone knows that it should arrive between 7:36am and 7:48pm; otherwise, everyone would miss their connections at Patchogue, and most would be late for work. Several got on their cell phones and made calls to inform their employers and caseworkers that they would not be on time. Those that did not have cell phones borrowed from their neighbors. No one knew what happened to the bus, and everyone was inconvenienced.

Later, at 8:30am, the same group of commuters still stood at the corner of Neighborhood Road and Diana Drive, rubbing their hands for warmth and trying to make pleasant conversation. Since the next bus was scheduled for approximated 8:36am to 8:45am, they were feeling cheered. At least they’d be able to get onto a warm bus, no mater how crowded. The bus never arrived. At 8:50am, most of the commuters had to take out their cell phones again, and call to inform their parties that they would be even later. Some shook their heads in disbelief and decided to simply go home. Others called friends and begged for rides, even thought they were already hopelessly late. Of those that stayed, some got it into their heads that they’d ask the next Riverhead-bound bus driver what was going on.

When the Riverhead bus arrived, the commuters were informed that two buses broke down, one after the other. The next bus to arrive would not be there until 9:30am. Some gasped, others simply laughed. “Par for the course,” said one. “Typical,” said another. “Sad,” said a gal, who then walked off to pick up a coffee to help her survive the next ½ hour wait.

The bus arrived as “scheduled”, and was packed past the safety limit. People rode in the vestibule, people attempted to shove past the white line, people packed the front of the bus, unable to get to the back, where two seats sat relatively empty. Once on the crowded bus, the conversation turned to “Why didn’t they send a backup bus?” and “Do they think we’re going to stand for this?” as well as “When are they going to come up to livable standards?” Everyone had a different answer about when the Sunday bus service would begin. Most assumed that a price hike loomed in the near future. None knew when and if the bus service would add later busses or provide replacement buses for problems like had happened that morning.

Suffolk County Bus (and more likely The Suffolk County Transit Authority) has yet to do anything but install bike racks and purchase several used buses to replace some of their ailing fleet. Those buses are not working any better than the older buses, perhaps in part due to the lowering of building standards and materials over the years.

Suffolk County needs earlier and later bus routes. They need more buses added. Here is an expample of how they have not thought out their schedules:

The S66 picks up commuters bound for Medford and Hauppauge, Bohemia, and even Huntington at 6:38 am. They arrive at Patchogue at 7:15 to 7:20am, hopefully in time to catch their connecting buses. The connecting buses (such as the S54 and S40) are run by different bus companies. At 7:30am, most commuters are on their way to their jobs or appointments, usually arriving anywhere from 8am to 9am. This allows them to get to their jobs on time, barring the loss of their originating or connecting buses. Most of the time things run well, simply because the bus drivers get used to their routes, and know how to drive them to arrive on time or a little early. A change in bus drivers or faulty equipment easily breaks the chain.

On the way home it’s a different story. Most businesses now insist that employees stay until 5:00 or 5:30pm, so those workers are stranded. Unless they can get on a bus that delivers them to Patchogue by 5:30pm, they will miss the last S66 back to East Patchogue, Bellport, Mastic Shirley, Moriches, or Riverhead. A third strike occurs when commuters need to get to connecting buses in Riverhead, because many of them stop after 6 or 6:30pm. Commuters who miss the 5:30pm train are subjected to up to an hour wait at the Patchogue train station along with another fee for the train. Once in their home towns, bus service has already stopped, so they are further subjected to a taxi fee to get home.

When will Suffolk County government officials step up and demand more bus service? Don’t they know that there are more commuters on the buses than ever, due to rising gas prices? Don’t they know that everyone’s pockets are hurting, and that higher prices on the LIRR and from taxi services are eating away at the very fabric of society? How can a person depend upon their bus company? They can’t. So if one doesn’t drive, one cannot get a job in one of the many industrial areas of Long Island. If one cannot work, they are a strain on the system. These commuters are using up their unemployent, going on Food Stamp programs, and becoming homelss at alarming rates.

Suffolk County Transit is effectively causing a caste division, creating a poor folk, poorer than poor who are forced to take lower wage jobs or forced not to work at all because of the lack of transportation. This is a disgrace. Comments found on Newsday and Topix bboards from more well off workers include taunts and dismissals of the residents of areas such as Patchogue, Mastic Beach and Moriches, claiming that “the poor don’t need buses” and “let them save up and buy a car like everyone else”. Other claims state, “They’re all drug users, why enable them,” and “nobody rides those buses anyway.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Regular commuters depend on these buses, and are being left behind.

Unfortunately, no one wants to take the first step to order buses every ½ hour for the S66, expanding service to 6:30 or 7pm from Patchogue, and extending East End service beyond 8pm for residents who live further out on the Island. Sunday service was promised but never delivered. Another idea would be to add a 5:30am bus from Riverhead, which would be used by many construction and office personnel to connect with buses to areas even further in – such as Melville, Westbury or Huntington.. It would also afford a cushion for those trying to get to jobs in Hauppauge.

In conclusion, bus service must be expanded in order to get workers out of their cut-off communities and back into the work force. Preparations for bus breakdowns (providing replacement buses) must be implemented. Managers and field supervisors must be hired and used on a daily basis to oversee and re-evaluate ailing schedules. Earlier and later buses must be added. Frequency of arriving buses must be raised, especially during rush hour. If these changes are not made, Suffolk County Long Island will quickly diminish into a conclave of the very rich, and the starving. (Whom are we kidding; we’re already there.) The situation can only get worse unless something is done and quick.