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Another Bus Fare Hike Proposed; Public Hearing Scheduled for Thursday

Chair of Transportation Committee said he foresees a $100 million budget shortfall this year; raising rates countywide could net county $1 million.

About a year after on the S92 bus route, which runs through Hampton Bays en route to Riverhead and points East, lawmakers are considering raising rates again - this time, throughout the whole county.

On Thursday, the county's Public Works and Transportation Committee is holding a public hearing at the county center in Riverside on the measure, which is expected to raise $1 million. The meeting is scheduled to run from 3 to 7 p.m.

Affecting most East End riders would be a 25-cent proposed increase. The hike would raise the fare on the S92 and 10C lines from $2 to $2.25, coming after last year's raise from $1.50 to $2. Last year's fare hike came with it Sunday and holiday service from July through mid-September, however no increase in service is proposed this year.

South Fork Legis. Jay Schneiderman, I-Montauk, is the chair of the Public Works and Transportation Committee and vice chair of the Budget and Finance Committee. Wearing both hats, he said that a $100 million shortfall stares Suffolk County in the face this year, and will likely get worse in 2013.

So the first county-wide fare increase in 19 years (except for the S92 and 10C) should be fair, Schneiderman said, especially considering jumps in operational costs in nearly two decades. 

He estimated that the average bus ride costs the county $7, with Suffolk County Accessible Transportation rides costing closer to $40.

"I think it is reasonable to raise the fares," he said. "We didn't want to go above Nassau County's rate of $2.25, but even that is a good rate ... We have to understand that we won't be able to pay our bills. This is going to be a challenging year."

Recent measures by new County Executive Steve Bellone mirror Schneiderman's statement.

Bellone announced last week a new requirement that all department heads must receive approval from the County Budget Office before overtime costs are approved.

"It is increasingly clear that we are not on a sustainable fiscal course and must cut back," he said.

But Vince Taldone, a Riverhead resident, member of the board of 5 Town Rural Transit and former member of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, said cutting back shouldn't be what the county is doing. Saying "disappointment is the only word to describe the news that another fare increase is proposed," Taldone added that working smarter could be a win-win for the county and bus riders.

"The bus system could bring in more money is if was run more logically," he said. "I was hoping the new county executive would see that and work with the legislature to drive ridership up, because that's the only way to bring more money in."

Bellone, according to a spokesperson, has directed a panel of financial experts to review the 2011, 2012, and 2013 county budgets. They will present their findings to the county's Budget and Finance Committee meeting on March 6.

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