The Hampton Hopper bus service has been recommended to provide the “last mile” shuttle in East Hampton for the South Fork Commuter Connection — a commuter rail and bus service East Hampton and Southampton towns plan to launch in March in an effort to reduce traffic congestion.
East Hampton Town Purchasing Agent Jeanne Carroza made the recommendation during the Town Board work session on Tuesday, when she outlined how the commuter connection service would operate. According to Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, the Southampton Town Board is expecting Tom Neely, the town’s director of public transportation and traffic safety, to make his own recommendation for that town’s “last mile” service provider at its January 22 meeting.
The commuter service will operate Monday through Friday, excluding holidays, with 260 service days anticipated between March 2019 and 2020, according to Ms. Carroza. The trains will originate in Speonk, picking up in Westhampton and Hampton Bays in the morning, with continuing service through Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton and Montauk. The fare will be $4.25 each way, or $8.50 round trip.
To start, the Hampton Hopper has recommended the use of two 25-person, passenger buses. On Tuesday, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said the unknown is how popular the service will actually be.
“There is no way of knowing how many riders will take advantage of the service or where their destinations will be on any given day,” he said. “We have looked at this and tried to cover the broadest number of bases and service. It is critical as this rolls out that the ridership finds it to be convenient and efficient to grow ridership here.”
On the Southampton Town front, Mr. Neely said on Wednesday he anticipated the board would vote on hiring two providers for shuttle service from train stations to employment hubs in Southampton Town like Southampton Hospital, the Stony Brook Southampton campus and local school districts, including the Sag Harbor School District’s Pierson Middle-High School.
One provider will be selected to offer service to cover Southampton outside of the Bridgehampton Sag Harbor area, which will have its own provider for shuttle service, according to Mr. Neely, who also made a presentation on the Commuter Connection to the Sag Harbor School Board on Monday night with Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni.
“We are doing outreach to large employers and key groups,” said Mr. Neely. “We have sent surveys through the Chamber of Commerce and the business alliance and are trying to get feedback from as many stakeholders as possible on potential stops the shuttle should make.”
On February 1, at the Long Island Rail Road Hampton Bays train station, elected officials will host a press conference at 10 a.m. to launch the service, although it will not formally begin until March 4.
Working with New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., the Long Island Rail Road announced early last year that it would offer the two additional morning and two additional evening trains during peak hours, in an effort to create a commuter rail and bus system on the South Fork to cut down on commuter traffic on Sunrise Highway and County Road 39.
The “last mile” transportation between train stations and employment centers will receive $500,000 in state grant funding, which Assemblyman Thiele announced he had secured last spring.
On Monday night, in front of the Sag Harbor School Board of Education, Mr. Schiavoni said the town was making the school districts “a priority.”
“We know the school districts hire a number of people [who live] to the west and they want to keep them,” he said, later adding, “sometimes the people get a job offer closer to home and the schools lose them.”
Mr. Neely noted that a Transit Flexible Spending Account can be created by employers to deduct pretax dollars for transportation expenses for employees, similar to a Health Flexible Spending Account to make the cost more bearable. But based on what the Internal Revenue Service allows as a deduction for gasoline, Mr. Neely said he believes the service will actually cost less than the price of fueling a vehicle and idling in traffic.
Mr. Neely said the school district could also consider setting up its own shuttle service to the Bridgehampton train station if it proves to be more flexible for employees.
“As the board of education knows, this has been a steep hill for us to climb as far as hiring and then losing wonderful staff, especially when it comes to things like the golf tournament,” said Superintendent Katy Graves, referring to the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills this summer and its impact on the commute to Sag Harbor. “It sounds like a wonderful place to work, they love working here, but when it starts to impact their families it’s a game changer. This could make a difference.”
Additional reporting by Christine Sampson.