Raising his voice to drown out the surrounding noise of sirens, passing cars and a train that was barreling through above his head on a bustling Saturday afternoon at the Lynbrook train station, East Rockaway resident Dan Caracciolo articulated the importance of the N36 bus route — which is slated to be cut on April 9.
“It’s a lifeline to our community,” he explained, standing next to a gaggle of state, county and local elected officials.
Behind him, about two dozen bus riders and community members stood in solidarity, some of whom had come armed with bright yellow signs bearing messages condemning the cuts.
Caracciolo organized the rally and press conference on March 11 at the train station, which is a vital stop on the N36’s route — for now.
On Feb. 16, the Nassau County Bus Transit Committee approved cuts to the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE bus, which will affect some 5,400 Nassau County residents. The measure is being taken because of a $6.8 million budget deficit, and will do away with the N36 — the only line that serves East Rockaway. Nassau County owns the bus system, but contributes only $2.5 million to its budget.
At a public hearing in Garden City, the transit committee voted 5 to 2 in favor of the cuts, which also eliminated shuttles in Freeport, Hicksville and Wantagh, the N19 Freeport bus to Sunrise Mall and the DeMott Avenue/Long Beach Road bus in Rockville Centre.
The N36 runs from Lynbrook to Freeport, encompassing East Rockaway, Oceanside and Baldwin. Many East Rockaway residents use it to transfer to other bus routes that extend throughout the county.
“The people who use the bus are students, senior citizens and people who don’t drive and have to take public transportation to get around,” Lynbrook resident Lloyd Peckermann said at the rally. “And they need affordable and accessible transportation to get around.” Peckermann added that he is visually impaired, and that many disabled people rely on NICE buses.
Caracciolo expressed his gratitude to those who came out to show their support despite the cold.
County Legislator Laura Curran was the first elected official to speak, expressing her support for keeping the bus routes. “We’re here with a very, very simple message,” she said. “And that message is, now is not the time to cut bus service in Nassau County.”
Other elected officials in attendance included State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, Assemblyman Brian Curran, Legislators Denise Ford and William Gaylor, and Lynbrook Mayor Bill Hendrick, all of whom spoke about saving the route.
“We need to do everything possible to protect and expand access to public transportation,” Kaminsky said. “These service reductions will significantly disrupt the lives of Nassau residents who use NICE daily, especially those who rely on the N36. We should find ways to expand, not cut, existing routes so that residents can take advantage of greener public transportation alternatives.”
He added that a state-county partnership could be used to properly fund NICE.
Brian Curran called it “unconscionable” to take away the bus route, while Ford, Gaylor and Hendrick all urged the county to find a solution.
Several of the elected officials expressed their belief that funding to keep the bus route intact would be found. Laura Curran said that the county has several places to draw from to avoid the cuts, which includes millions of dollars in capital grants that were awarded years ago and went unused.
Eric Alexander, the director of Vision Long Island, a group that promotes more livable, economically sustainable and environmentally responsible growth on Long Island — termed smart growth — said that neither residents nor officials have to ride the bus to support keeping the routes, and stressed their importance.
“We’re spending billions of dollars on a federal level on transportation,” Alexander said. “We have to make sure those dollars make it to bus service.”
Caracciolo said he was very happy with the turnout for the event, and that he hoped it would lead to the bus route being saved. “I think any time you get 15 degrees and 25 to 30 people to support a cause outside, it’s probably a good day,” he said. “So I’m really grateful, and really happy that we have that bipartisan support.”
Though there was much optimism expressed about staving off the cuts, as of press time, the fate of the bus line remained up in the air.
“We cannot afford to lose the buses,” Caracciolo said at the conclusion of the rally. “Save the N36.”