Born and raised on Long Island in New York, organizing transportation for even the smallest local adventures is something I’ve had to do throughout my life. Populated by widely spread out suburban towns, most Long Island destinations are rarely within wheelchair rolling distance. This meant that as a child, I had to figure out which of my friends’ parents had the most accessible vehicle for me to climb into, or I had to rely on my father to drive me everywhere. As an adult, the situation has been much the same, and will be changing only because I’m now a licensed driver awaiting my adapted vehicle. Essentially, some form of vehicle, be it car, bus, or train, is needed to get where you want to go.
Due to distances between locations, it’s undeniable that the best option for traversing Long Island independently is being able to drive. However, if driving yourself isn’t an option, here are three main forms of public transportation you can use:
1) Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)
To get from one town to another, or even to head into New York City, you can catch a LIRR train. This is certainly a viable means of transportation, but it’s important to know that the LIRR does not work like a subway system. There’s only one stop per town, which means that unless your destination is close to a particular train station, you’ll still need another means of transportation from the station. Also, rates vary depending on your destination, but wheelchair users can purchase reduced fare tickets.
If you do choose to ride the LIRR, boarding the train requires a bit of strategy. First, be sure to double-check the status of the elevators. Then, once you get to the platform at the station, you need to find a conductor and ask them to put out a bridge plate so you can safely roll over the gap. You’re most likely to find a conductor at the front or back of the train once it pulls into the station, and you can spot them by looking in the windows. Once you flag someone down, they’ll meet you at an accessible train car entrance to help you inside.
2) Public Buses
Taking a bus is a great option for Long Island residents and tourists alike. There are two counties on Long Island, Suffolk and Nassau, and both have fixed-route bus service. All Suffolk County Transit and Nassau Inter-County Express buses are wheelchair accessible, with lifts to board and two open spaces for wheelchairs to be secured.
While taking a public bus is definitely a good option, there is a chance you may not be able to board if other wheelchair users have already filled the two available spots. Or, you may encounter issues similar to riding the LIRR in that you won’t be taken exactly where you need to go, though you might be able to roll from a bus stop to your destination. Advocate and blogger Cara Liebowitz, who sometimes uses a wheelchair, notes, “I’m not always guaranteed a spot on the bus, whereas everyone else can stand if the bus is full. And sometimes the bus stops are far away from where I need to go, and it can be dangerous as a wheelchair user to cross busy streets when drivers may not always see me.” Even so, public buses are generally a convenient means of transportation.
In addition, if you have a disability, you can pay a reduced bus fare. In Suffolk County, the fare is 50 cents, and an accompanying personal care attendant can ride for free. In Nassau County, if you’re eligible for the county paratransit and you present your ID card, you can ride a public bus for free.
Around the United States, wheelchair users who are unable to drive can apply for eligibility to take paratransit buses. Both Suffolk and Nassau counties have paratransit systems, and if you’re eligible in your hometown, you’re eligible to use Long Island services as well. In order to do this, you’ll have to contact the paratransit service offices directly to make special arrangements. While many paratransit riders have encountered issues with the services, it is generally reliable, so I do recommend using it. The buses are specifically wheelchair accessible and provide door-to-door service.
The Suffolk system, known as Suffolk County Accessible Transit (SCAT), costs $4 for a one-way trip, and a personal care attendant can accompany you for free. You must call to reserve your bus five days in advance. While you can technically call and try to make a reservation one day before you need to go somewhere, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to reserve a bus with such late notice. Also, once your bus is reserved, don’t forget that it can arrive within a half hour window of your scheduled time. This means if you have a reservation for 11:00am, your bus can arrive between 10:45-11:15am. And if you need to cancel, be sure to do it as soon as possible, because if you cancel late too frequently, this may result in being penalized and you won’t be able to use the service any more.
The Nassau system, known as Able-Ride, costs $3.75 for a one-way trip, and as with SCAT, a personal care attendant can accompany you for free. You can call to reserve your bus up to seven days in advance, and the sooner you call, the better. Also, just like SCAT, your bus can arrive within a half hour window of your scheduled pick-up time, and if you need to cancel, do it as soon as you possibly can.
Whether you drive, get a ride, catch a train, take a bus, or use paratransit, you have plenty options to get to where you need to go on Long Island. All it takes is a little planning ahead, and you’ll find that plenty of adventures for people who use wheelchairs await!