New Details Offered for Commuter Rail and Bus Service

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Riders at the Bridgehampton train station will be able to take a shuttle bus directly to their places of work. Peter Boody photo

Just how the towns of Southampton and East Hampton will provide a “last-mile South Fork Commuter Connection” to take riders directly to and from work and local train stations and off the highways all depends on responses to requests for proposals (RFPs) the towns are preparing to publicize within the next few weeks.

“We have last-mile RFP services” planned for “multiple locations and needs across both towns,” Tom Neely, Southampton Town’s director of public transportation and traffic safety told the Southampton Town Board at its July 19 work session.

The towns are developing the RFP as part of a newly announced effort to lure drivers to the LIRR from the South Fork’s morning and afternoon “trade parade” traffic jam, which severely clogs east-west highways with the cars of South Fork workers who live out of town to the west.

The towns have been looking into providing “last-mile” service by contracting with private bus companies such as Hampton Jitney and Hampton Luxury Liner, Suffolk County Transit, employers, cab companies and other providers such as ride-sharing services including Lyft and Uber.

The plan will become a reality thanks to a $500,000 state budget allocation and the LIRR’s promise to add two morning and two evening trains between Speonk and Montauk tailored to serve South Fork workers. Service is planned to start on March 4.

The two towns’ planning departments have identified 14 separate “units” where the “last-mile” service will be needed in the mornings and afternoons in both towns, serving such specific destinations as Kmart in Bridgehampton and specific people such as teachers who work in Sag Harbor. Southampton Town will issue the RFPs but each town will have its own contracts for services within its boundaries.

“We’re casting a wide net” with the RFPs “and we’re going to have hopefully a lot of providers come in and have a bidder meeting,” Mr. Neely said, at which town planners can “tell them what we’re trying to do here and then let them go back and have a couple of weeks and then come back with their proposals.”

East Hampton Town’s assistant planning director, Joanne Pawhul, previously told her Town Board at a work session that the RFPs are expected to go out by mid-August.

The service is expected to attract workers who do not need to carry much or use their cars during the day. Judging by the response to a previous service the towns and the LIRR provided in 2007 and 2008 when County Road 39 was being widened, “It’s going to be teachers,” people who work at the hospital and on “Main Street,” Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. told the board at the July 19 work session. Mr. Thiele helped secure the funding and the LIRR schedule commitment for the program.

“It’s really white-collar workers … who this will appeal to the most,” Mr. Thiele said. “I see as a phase down the road” providing secure parking areas where tradesmen could leave their vehicles and tools” to they could at least take the train onto the South Fork. “In this initial stage, we’re just not able to.”

“The contractors are a different challenge,” Mr. Neely said. “We’ve met with the 511 ride share people,” he said, referring to the state’s 511NY.org ride-sharing program. Planners have also talked with employers about allowing for flexible hours and allowing employers to have “money taken out pretax to pay for monthly commuter” costs, Mr. Neely said.

Exactly how much “last-mile” service will cost won’t be known until providers submit bids. The fare is expected to be $4.25 each way including the “last-mile” service.

The town plans to add 30 parking spaces at its Hampton Bays parking lot to accommodate South Fork Commuter Connection riders, 50 percent used the Hampton Bays station during the 2007-2008 service, Mr. Neely reported. Thirty-eight percent of riders got off the train in Southampton.

Additional sidings will be needed to expand the commuter services because the South Fork’s single-track can’t otherwise carry more trains headed in opposite directions.

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”