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Bus

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Police 7th Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that seriously injured a 4-year-old girl.

Heather Lee and her daughter, Willow Lee, were walking westbound and crossing a parking lot entrance on the north side of Route 25 when they were struck by a Suffolk County Transit bus at approximately 6:55 p.m. The bus had been traveling eastbound on Route 25 when the bus driver made a left into a parking lot, located at 1175 Middle Country Road in Middle Island, when the crash occurred.

Lee, 27, and Willow, 4, of Shoreham, were both transported by Middle Island Rescue to Stony Brook University Hospital. Willow suffered head trauma and is in serious condition. The girl’s mother suffered non-life-threatening injuries. The bus driver, Thomas Lowitt, 63, of Islip, was not injured.

Highway Patrol Motor Carrier Safety Section officers responded and conducted a safety check on the bus. The investigation is ongoing.

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Port Jefferson allows parents to track the location of school buses thanks to the implementation of mobile app Here Comes the Bus. File photo

Parents of Port Jefferson School District students rejoice.

With the implementation of a new smartphone application for parents in the district called Here Comes the Bus, those waiting to meet their kids when they’re dropped off by the school bus in the afternoon, or waiting to be picked up by the bus in the morning, can now do so within the comfort of their own homes, instead of on a cold street corner.

An image from the Apple version of the app.

The service was kicked off Nov. 1 for high school and middle school bus routes, with availability for parents of elementary students to come at a later date, according to the district. Users of the app can see the location of their child’s bus both before and after school, confirm that their child’s bus has arrived at the bus stop, at school or both, and also can sign up to receive a push notification or email message when the bus is near their stop, has been substituted, or when the district has important information to relay.

“You will have the information you need to send your children to the bus stop at just the right time, helping to protect them from inclement weather and other roadside dangers,” the district said in an email that went out to parents last week. “What’s more, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your children haven’t missed the bus.”

The GPS-tracking technology is currently only available for regular inbound and outbound buses at the beginning and end of the school day at the present time. The Here Comes the Bus app can be downloaded and used for free through Apple’s app store or on Google Play. Before use, the app requires that parents verify they are a parent of a student in the Port Jeff district by entering their student’s school identification number, and a five-digit code provided by the district to ensure buses can’t be tracked by anyone other than parents or the district.

“My kids ride a bus that is sometimes late as it drops the middle school and high school after school activities participants off first,” said Brenda Eimers Batter, a parent in the district, in a Facebook message. “It would be nice to be able to track when they are coming around the bend so I don’t have to stand outside in the rain or cold.”

“My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

— Laura Dunbar Zimmerman

Another parent who used the service Nov. 6 gave it rave reviews.

“Love it!!” Laura Dunbar Zimmerman said. “My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

Kathleen Brennan, president of the Port Jeff board of education, said during a phone interview the board was first made aware of the technology through the bus company.

“We thought it would be a benefit for parents and caregivers of students to be able to know when the bus is getting to the neighborhood, and if the bus is delayed they’d be aware of it also,” she said. “I think it’s a great safety feature and a great time saver.”

The application is available in English, Spanish and French. Those with questions about Here Comes the Bus for Port Jeff district can call 631-791-4261 or visit www.help.herecomesthebus.com/en/support/home.

A 10-year-old student of William T. Rogers Middle School was hit by driver Pasquale Izzo, 81, of Kings Park, while attempting to board the bus Sept. 15. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

A 10-year-old Kings Park boy struck by an SUV on his way to the school bus was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious injuries, according to Suffolk County police.

A William T. Rogers Middle School student was walking across First Avenue, near Carlson Avenue, at about 7:54 a.m. Sept. 15 to board his school bus, police said. The bus had its flashing red lights on and stop sign activated to warn approaching motorists.

Pasquale Izzo, 81, of Kings Park, was driving a 1998 Dodge Durango northbound on First Avenue when he allegedly attempted to pass the school bus, and ignored its flashing lights. Izzo failed to stop his vehicle and struck the student, according to police.

The 10-year-old boy was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious, but not life-threatening injuries, according to police. Izzo was not injured. 

Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen notified district parents that it has additional mental health staff available at the middle school to provide  support to those students who witnessed the accident, students who know the injured student and anyone else, as needed.

“Unfortunately, this incident is a terrible reminder that we cannot always assume that motorists will follow traffic safety rules at all times,” Eagen said in a message posted on the district’s website.

Under New York State Law, drivers who pass a stopped school bus can be fined $250 for the first violation and face up to a maximum fine of $1,000 for three violations in less than three years. Individuals convicted of three violations in a three-year span may have their driver’s license revoked.

Kings Park Central School District announced the bus’s route has been changed in order to avoid any potential future tragic accidents at the intersection, and so that the student involved and those who witnessed the accident don’t have to return to the scene of the accident on a daily basis.

The neighboring Commack school district sent out an email to parents reminding them to, “Please drive slowly with no distractions, and be especially vigilant of where our precious children are playing, walking, riding or standing.”

Most school bus-related deaths and injuries occur when children are loading or unloading from a bus, according to New York State Department of Motor Vehicle’s website, not in collisions that involve school buses.

The driver’s vehicle has been impounded for safety checks and the incident is under investigation. Suffolk County’s 4th Squad Detectives are asking anyone who witnessed the accident to call 631-854-8452.

The state department of motor vehicles has recently issued several safety recommendations for drivers sharing the roads with school buses:

* When a stopped school bus flashes its red light(s), traffic that approaches from either direction, even in front of the school and in school parking lots,  must stop before  reaching the bus. Drivers should stop at least 20 feet away from the bus.

* Before a school bus stops to load or discharge passengers, the bus driver will usually flash yellow warning lights. Drivers should decrease speed and be prepared to stop.

* When you stop for a school bus, do not drive again until the red lights stop flashing or until the bus driver or a traffic officer signals that you may proceed. *You must stop for a school bus even if it is on the opposite side of a divided highway.

* After stopping for a school bus, look for children along the side of the road. Drive slowly until have passed them.

From left to right, school board trustees Dan Tew and Kevin Johnston, Superintendent Timothy Eagen, board vice president Diane Nally, school board trustee Joe Bianco, and transportation supervisor Steve Lee smile with one of the new buses. Photo from Timothy Eagen

Kings Park Central School District is continuing its commitment to the environment by introducing more propane buses to the school’s fleet.

Last year, the district joined a handful of Long Island school districts in going green for transportation in the form of propane-fueled school buses.

Thanks to the support of the community, Kings Park expanded its fleet of propane buses from four to eight for the start of the new school year.

Supervisor Timothy Eagen said the additional buses will help the district cut costs and contribute positively to the environment.

“For the second year in a row, the community overwhelmingly supported the purchase,” he said in a statement. “This choice is yet another way that the school district is looking to save taxpayers money. The transition to propane has gone very well for us, and I look forward to continuing this initiative.”

The purchase of the buses was a separate voting proposition in this past May’s budget vote.

The old diesel buses, originally purchased 15 to 20 years ago, were traded in for $2,500 each. The district owns a fleet of about 60 buses, and it is necessary to purchase buses on an annual basis to maintain the fleet.

Propane is seen as a positive alternative fuel for school buses because it is widely available and costs significantly less than diesel or gasoline. The newest propane engine technology is considerably more cost efficient, quieter, requires less maintenance and is more ecofriendly than either diesel or gas.

In cold weather, diesel engines need to idol for 30 minutes or longer to achieve the proper engine temperature prior to operation. This means wasting gas and paying workers overtime to warm up the bus fleet on cold days. This is not necessary with propane engines.

Moving forward, the administration said it intends to continue to slowly replace its fleet with propane buses.

Eagen said the district will always need a few diesel buses however, for longer sports and extracurricular trips.

“Propane is a fuel that is currently not readily available at gas stations,” he said.

From left, Bea Ruberto; Inge Goldstein, Sound Beach Civic Association membership chair; Suffolk County Supervisor Steve Bellone; and Suffolk County Leg. Sarah Anker at the bus stop in Sound Beach when second run of the 5A was added in 2014. File photo by Erika Karp

By Bea Ruberto

Sound Beach, nestled between Miller Place and Rocky Point, had a population of 7,612 as of 2010. When I first became involved with the Sound Beach Civic Association, I often heard that our hamlet was forgotten by all levels of government. I can honestly say that in recent years, this has begun to change. Among other projects, the Town of Brookhaven was instrumental in revitalizing Echo Avenue and paving this road to lower Rocky Point Road and is currently working on restoring the East Beach.

Several years ago, Suffolk County recognized the need for better bus service through Sound Beach and added two new runs of the 5A. Now, they’re getting ready to take this back and more — eliminate the 5A. This will mean there will be no service north of 25A and east of Echo Avenue. The only “service” will be the S62, which skirts our community and only runs twice a day — in the a.m. eastbound and p.m. westbound — to allow people to get to Suffolk County offices during rush hour.

Suffolk County is planning to eliminate eight routes throughout the system to help close a looming $78 million deficit, and, yes, the 5A is not a busy route, but it is the only public transportation in Sound Beach. People use this to get to work and to doctors’ appointments and to connect with other routes in Port Jefferson and Middle Island. In addition, an increasingly aging population may need to do things as basic as get to the grocery store. At this point, I don’t use the bus system, but, having just turned 70, I foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when I may need to give up my car.

According to the county, in some cases there may be alternate routes for passengers. In Sound Beach, this only applies to those living within walking distance of 25A, and most Sound Beachers live too far to walk to 25A. In other cases, existing routes may be altered to cover key destinations on the routes subject to elimination.

We then ask that the route of the 5A be modified instead of eliminated.

Barring this, perhaps the S62 can be modified so that it runs through Sound Beach proper and more often than once in the morning and once in the evening.

Public hearings on this will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. on the following dates/locations:

• Thursday, Sept. 8, Riverhead Legislative Auditorium, Evans K. Griffing Building, 300 Center Drive, Riverhead.

• Friday, Sept. 9, Hauppauge Legislative Auditorium, W. H. Rogers Building, 725 Veterans Memorial Highway, Smithtown.

Written comments may be submitted up to five days following the hearings to Suffolk County Transit, 335 Yaphank Ave., Yaphank 11980-9774.

Members of the Sound Beach Civic Association will attend the Sept. 8 meeting. If this route is removed, it won’t be easy to get the service back. We urge everyone in Sound Beach to join us whether you ride the bus or not. We will also be crafting a written comment that will be made available for use by the community. For more information, to get a copy of the written comment or if you need a ride to the Sept. 8 meeting, email Rubertob11789@aol.com or call 631-744-6952.

Bea Ruberto is a Sound Beach resident and current president of the Sound Beach Civic Association.

The Port Jefferson jitney stops on Arden Place near Mariners Way. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The village jitney is up and running again, shuttling residents and visitors through Port Jefferson on summer weekends. But in its third year, village officials may take things up a notch.

At a village board of trustees meeting last Monday, Trustee Larry LaPointe announced they had received a $12,600 grant from Suffolk County to build three small shelters for people waiting to hop on the jitney.

It is a matching grant, so the village will have to kick in as much money as it accepts from the county. That may be slightly lower than the total available, as the trustees approved a proposal from Freeport-based Columbia Equipment Company to build the three red shelters for $19,500 — meaning each municipality would kick in just shy of $10,000.

LaPointe described the shelters as aluminum squares measuring 5 feet by 7 feet — the ridership numbers don’t justify building big shelters, he said — without benches inside.

“Benches attract people who want to take a nap,” he said.

Port Jefferson officials often contend with loitering vagrants or drunken people. There are frequently homeless people sleeping on the few benches around the area.

While the village could choose to put in benches down the road, LaPointe noted that because the shelters are small, leaving out a bench would improve access to the shelters for people in wheelchairs.

The shelters would be installed at the three points along the jitney route: at its start uptown on the east side of Oakland Avenue, near the Long Island Rail Road station; on the north side of Arden Place close to East Main Street; and at the harborfront park off East Broadway.

Those shelters are going to be red so they match the color of the shuttle bus.

“The shelters will really brand it — red jitney, red shelter,” LaPointe said.

The bus service, which resumed on Memorial Day, will keep trucking until Labor Day. Fare is $2, but children under 12 can ride for free.

When the jitney first started running in summer 2014, the village board saw the shuttle as a way to connect the vibrant downtown and the struggling uptown areas.

“It’s a good way to start bridging the gap between upper and lower Port,” Mayor Margot Garant said at the time. “We’ve got to get people circulating back up and down.”

Port Jefferson Village parking committee chairman George Westbay had originally presented the concept as a year-round service to link uptown and downtown, given the village’s push to revitalize the upper Port area and with a new apartment complex going up on Texaco Avenue to bring in more residents. He also saw it being used by visitors who could take the LIRR to Port Jefferson and then use the bus to go to a waterfront festival, for instance, instead of using a car.

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Rides will be free on the town bus system’s fixed routes beginning Sept. 21-26 and Sept. 28-Oct. 3. Photo by A.J. Carter

Huntington Area Rapid Transit (HART) buses will be fare-free for two weeks later this month, a move town officials hopes encourages residents to consider the town transit system as an alternative to driving their cars.

The weeks of free fare span Monday, Sept. 21 through Saturday, Sept. 26, and again on Monday, Sept. 28 through Saturday, Oct. 3. There will be no fare charged on HART’s fixed route buses, according to a town spokesperson. The promotion is being held in coordination with International Car Free
Day on Sept. 22. That is an annual event celebrated in more than 1,500 cities in 40 countries during which people are encouraged to get around without cars, using alternate transportation such as transit, biking or carpooling.

Locally, Car Free Day Long Island will be celebrated for the third consecutive year under the auspices of Transit Solutions and 511NYRideshare, who are partnering with the town in presenting the Fare Free Weeks.

The goal of the promotion is to increase ridership on HART, the only town-operated bus system on Long Island.

HART, which has been operating since 1978, revised its routes in January 2013 to adapt to changing demand, improve service and reduce waiting times. This year, HART upgraded its fleet, putting 15 new vehicles into service, including seven 20-passenger clean diesel buses that provide easier maneuverability, greater fuel efficiency and easier passenger access than the 29-passenger vehicles they replaced. HART also has three hybrid buses that are part of the fixed-route service.

“Over its 35 years in existence, HART has developed a loyal, devoted ridership, composed of people who appreciate the ability to get from place to place in the Town without having to use a car,” Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in the statement. “We hope that Fare Free Weeks will prompt new riders to give HART a try, learn for themselves what great service HART provides and become frequent riders after the promotion ends.”

The Huntington Town Board authorized Fare Free Weeks in a resolution it approved unanimously at its July 14 meeting. The resolution noted that the town would seek sponsorships to offset the lost passenger revenue.

Petrone and his Town Board colleagues expressed their appreciation to these businesses and organizations that have agreed to become Fare Free Weeks sponsors: Covanta Energy; Stop & Shop; Target; The Paramount; Renaissance Downtowns; Clever Devices; the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce; and the Huntington Station Business Improvement District.

“HART bus is one of those unique services the town provides, giving people who don’t have cars, including teenagers, the mobility they need for their daily activities,” Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) said in a statement. “But HART also provides an opportunity for car owners to get around town and, as the old Greyhound commercial used to say, leave the driving to us, especially if the ride is free.”

Rosemary Mascali, the manager of Transit Solutions and co-chair of the Car Free Day Long Island event, lauded the fare-free initiative.

“We’re thrilled to see the Town of Huntington join in the international celebration of Car Free Day by providing a free ride on HART buses during these two Fare Free Weeks,” Mascali said. “This puts the town at the leading edge of Long Island municipalities in their efforts to encourage residents to try a commute alternative.”

The free rides are available only on fixed route service. Paratransit is unaffected by the promotion. For details on routes and schedules, riders can visit the HART Bus page on the town’s website, http://www.huntingtonny.gov.

File photo

A man was killed in Selden on Monday evening when his car collided with a Suffolk County Transit bus.

The Suffolk County Police Department said 20-year-old Zachary Rauso was driving south on Dare Road shortly before 6 p.m. when he crashed with the bus, which had been traveling in the opposite direction.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash.

A physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner pronounced Rauso, a Selden resident, dead at the scene.

The bus was carrying just one passenger at the time of the crash, police said. Both that passenger and the 52-year-old bus driver were treated for minor injuries at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Police impounded Rauso’s car, a 1999 Mercury, for a safety check, while the SCPD’s Highway Patrol Motor Carrier Safety Section inspected the bus and towed it away from the scene.

Detectives from the 6th Squad are investigating the collision, including its cause.

Anyone who witnessed the crash and has not yet been interviewed by police is asked to call the detectives at 631-854-8652.

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