Talking Regional Transit, Again

     The suggestion that the East End towns break away from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is not new, but it resurfaced this week in a campaign appearance in Southampton with Steve Bellone, who is running for Suffolk County executive. Mr. Bellone was joined by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who also supports a new Peconic Regional Transportation Authority, which might provide more frequent service among the villages and hamlets of the North and South Forks — and help businesses escape the M.T.A.’s usurious payroll tax.
    What Mr. Thiele envisions, and Mr. Bellone supports, is a network of rail spurs and connecting buses, although it might take up to four years to build and cost more than $100 million. According to a release from the Bellone campaign, a 2009 survey estimated that the East End paid at least $40 million more in taxes than it received in services from the M.T.A., which has had perennial financial problems. Mr. Bellone’s opponent in the race to replace County Executive Steve Levy, Angie Carpenter, derided the idea as more big government and too costly.
    Whether such a transit alternative would find enough riders here remains uncertain. From an environmental perspective, getting drivers out of cars and onto trains and buses would pay dividends in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the last-mile problem of getting people from bus stops or train stations to dispersed workplaces or shopping centers would remain an obstacle to any quick action on a new system.
    Nevertheless, a locally controlled authority that could provide a savings for taxpayers and offer more daily rail trips and an efficient interface with the Long Island Rail Road is an idea worth pursuing. Good politics aside, Mr. Thiele and Mr. Bellone should run with it.