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Sep 22, 2017 5:54 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

County Legislator Bridget Fleming Hears Riders On Car Free Day On Friday

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming participates in Car Free Day on the S92 and the 10B buses. KATE RIGA
Sep 26, 2017 11:54 AM

As she waited for the S92 bus to pull onto the narrow shoulder that passes for a bus stop inches away from the roaring traffic of County Road 39 in Southampton on Friday morning, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming looked for waiting passengers to talk with about their daily commute.Her gaze fell upon Bryan Atancuri, a 17-year-old senior at Southampton High School, as he was shuffling his feet in the dirt and playing with his iPhone. Living north of County Road 39 in Shinnecock Hills, Bryan must cross four lanes of traffic every time he needs to take the Suffolk County transit bus to his job at the Carvel on Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton, a roughly half-hour trip most days, depending on traffic.

He also explained to Ms. Fleming, who took the bus on Friday as part of her Car Free Day mission and wants to help remedy the South Fork’s public transportation shortcomings, that the county’s inefficient and unreliable bus system makes his life difficult. He noted that he typically arrives 30 minutes ahead of schedule due to the bus’s sporadically early departures, and all that lost time and uncertainty make it difficult for him to balance his school workload—Bryan volunteers with the high school stage crew, yearbook club and oversees his own pet project, the Latino Culture Club—with the demands of his part-time job.

But Bryan’s primary concern is not for himself, but for his aging mother. The necessary trot from their home to the bus stop, which requires crossing four lanes of heavy traffic, is a significant challenge for his mother, who is crippled with bad knees.

“I always feel bad because she always has to wait for the bus, and wait for the traffic to clear before she can even cross the street,” he said. “Her knees are just giving out, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to her.”

Grace Chris, another local and frequent bus rider, walked up to the stop after having to climb through the brush at the side of the road to avoid the thunderous streams of traffic on the intimidatingly tight shoulder.

“I take my life in my hands,” she said. “If I take this bus to Southampton, on the way back, it drops me off across the street. Then I have to cross all of the traffic to get back. It’s scary. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Ms. Chris said she tried submitting ideas, like the installation of a yield sign or the construction of a pedestrian overpass when County Road 39 was being widened, but to no avail. “Safety is clearly not a priority,” she added, referring to Suffolk officials.

Earlier this year, county officials announced that they have set aside $350,000 to study the feasibility of installing sidewalks along a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of County Road 39, with a portion of that money earmarked to study the cost of widening the shoulder and installing a shelter for those who wait at the bus stop where the road converges with Sunrise Highway.

But none of that funding will go toward improving the actual service, a notoriously underutilized bus system that, last fall, endured massive cuts—including the elimination of three East End routes—due to low ridership. Still, critics argue that ridership is down because the buses are not a reliable form of public transportation, meaning that locals will use them only when they have no other options.

On Friday morning, the bus pulled up just a few minutes late, and Ms. Fleming boarded, buoyed by these conversations and ready to dive into more of her constituency’s transportation problems. Her pool of constituents was small.

The dozen passengers on the bus, including Bryan and Ms. Chris, all disembarked after a few stops, leaving the bus mostly empty. Ms. Fleming was not surprised.

“If the bus system was better and more reliable, more people would get out of their cars and use it,” she said. “But unfortunately, what you hear is that people only take the bus because they have to—they’d much rather have a car. And I really think that’s moving in the wrong direction for a community that really only has one east-west artery.”

She also cited the environmental concerns of a coastal town, and that the emissions from such a high volume of cars would only increase the nitrogen levels in the surrounding water. While she wanted to speak directly with passengers, Ms. Fleming picked Friday to take a ride on the bus because Suffolk County had designated it Car Free Day in an attempt to bring attention to the pollution created by single-occupancy vehicles and encourage people to rely on sustainable methods of public transportation.

Ms. Fleming said she wants to reinvigorate the county’s bus system, fixing nonsensical routes and putting together an operation that serves the people who were left behind after routes were abandoned last year. In early October 2016, Suffolk County cut eight of its least-utilized bus routes, including three on the South Fork, saving an estimated $4 million annually and helping trim a then-$78 million budget deficit. These three routes—the 10D/10E, the 10A and the S90—collectively serviced East Quogue, Hampton Bays, Sag Harbor, North Haven and Westhampton Beach.

In the void left by these cuts, Ms. Fleming wants to recalibrate the remaining routes, investigating how to make them more efficient for the first time in 30 years. She’ll be examining this issue alongside the other members of the Transportation Working Group, a coalition of 11 county officials that also includes a member of the Long Island Bus Riders Union and other transit representatives.

She admits, though, that funding remains the primary issue. She hopes to get some through a bigger return of Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA, payroll tax dollars, a bigger share of State Transportation Operating Assistance funding and a change in policy with ride-share companies like Uber to get a fraction of that surcharge. Though there are similar bills in both the State Senate and Assembly presently, measures that would allow suburban counties to retain a portion of the MTA payroll tax to help defray the cost of operating and maintaining mass transportation, the Senate version has been stalled in Albany.

As to Ms. Fleming’s second goal, she notes that the state currently distributes about $3 billion annually to help counties pay for mass transportation—while pointing out that Suffolk is slated to receive only $26,443,700 in the 2017-18 state budget. She said she hopes to increase that figure, noting that the county’s Budget Review Office has determined that there is no formula dictating how those state transportation funds are dispersed.

The proposed taxing on shared rider services, meanwhile, has stalled and, presently, there are no immediate plans to divert some of those surcharge fees to help fund public transportation.

While she has many ideas on how to fix the situation, the former Southampton Town Board member acknowledges that most of the power lies in Albany, and with changing the way the State Transportation Operating Assistance funds are handed out.

“We’ll keep lobbying to get this done,” she said looking around the empty bus on Friday. “But a lot depends on our state representatives.”

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The bus stops and public transportation is a joke on the East End.
By Mouthampton (433), Southampton on Sep 22, 17 6:35 PM
1 member liked this comment
I wonder how many times Ms. Fleming has actually taken the bus herself. She talks the talk...but walks the walk???? I seriously doubt it. Does anyone really buy this political nonsense?
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Sep 22, 17 6:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
Is that all you got from this article??
Just looking to criticize a positive proactive move from an elected official. She's listening to the cries of people who need his transportation like my husband who's visually handicapped. Its a positive thing regardless of whether she takes the bus or not UGH!
By lursagirl (238), southampton on Sep 22, 17 9:08 PM
I'm very annoyed wth your commentary because I know first hand that Bridget is sincere in this issue as my husband has had meetings with her about the issues above. Its not political nonsense believe me! She's an advocate and thankfully so.
By lursagirl (238), southampton on Sep 22, 17 9:14 PM
1 member liked this comment
“The cry of the poor is is not always just, but if you don't listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

― Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States
By Mr. Z (11561), North Sea on Sep 24, 17 9:32 AM
Cynical much...Bridget is doing a public service by bringing the inadequacy of public transportation to the public's attention. The real-life case of those interviewed in the article speak to the deficiency. Major props to Bridget - a real public servant.
By number19 (110), Westhampton on Sep 27, 17 8:05 AM
I commend Bridget for addressing a very important issue. Traffic is an increasing problem and public transport if a practical solution. Look at every highly populated area public transport is a must. Our systems are terrible but if they were better and properly promoted it could make huge difference. For the cynical HB Proud maybe it is just a political ploy but at least someone is addressing an important issue. She has my vote, because she tries to make a positive impact and in the end thats the ...more
By Corwin1879 (39), Southampton on Sep 22, 17 9:52 PM
So true! Its sad when a public official try to help and all "some" people can do is tear them down while sitting behind their computer doing nothing proactive for the community themselves and bash those who are...
By lursagirl (238), southampton on Sep 23, 17 5:39 PM
1 member liked this comment
"at least someone is addressing" - what is she actually done? I actually use the bus system when I can. She was on the Southampton Board for years and now at Suffolk County. She and Jay Schneiderman just switched places - same old intellectually lazy ideas. Why don't they just use the Hampton Bays Trolley - that was an overwhelming success LOL. She spearheaded GGP which has eclipsed $4 million dollars and has no comfort stations and except for a handful of events, will be an attractive nuisance ...more
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Sep 23, 17 7:40 AM
1 member liked this comment
Whatever you say!
By lursagirl (238), southampton on Sep 23, 17 9:22 AM
Only takes the bus for a photo op plain and simple
By GoldenBoy (346), EastEnd on Sep 23, 17 11:29 AM
She could only find one person needing a bus.these buses put out more pollution than any vehicle on the road . the drivers have no consideration for anyone but them self's they pull in and out of traffic at will . I think this service is a waste of tax payer money.
By DP (6), southampton on Sep 23, 17 7:30 PM
Exactly - political nonsense before the election. She like Jay hopes people are not really paying attention to what they are doing. They throw out catch phases and take photo ops. This is an important election year for the Town of Southampton. People - pay attention - don't let the buzz words fool you.
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Sep 24, 17 8:06 AM
She may have heard them but she didn't understand a word they said.
By even flow (947), East Hampton on Sep 24, 17 7:50 AM
Can someone lob a call into Google, waymo or Uber and see if we can get self driving cars on the right of way next to the failed LIRR -- they'd all love to have their non unionized, self driving transport solution access our community.
By dfree (785), hampton bays on Sep 24, 17 4:29 PM
Bridget, you were dropped at 39A and rode to where??? Carvel in Watermill? Where is it, I want ice cream... Weren't you around when they expanded it???
Jay should have been the guide...
By knitter (1865), Southampton on Sep 24, 17 6:24 PM
Jay was at the abandoned Friendly's waiting for the Hampton Bays Trolley.
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Sep 26, 17 7:43 AM
Hot Tubs,SALE, Southampton Village, SouthamptonFest weekend