Towns Look to Move Forward With Public Transit Network

Last spring, Joanne Pahwul, East Hampton Town’s assistant planning director, and Tom Neely, Southampton Town’s transportation director, discussed with the East Hampton Town Board a timeline for for the board to develop with the Town of Southampton a “last mile” commuter connection service to take LIRR commuters directly to their places of work on the South Fork. Contracts for the service were awarded this week. Peter Boody photo

The Towns of Southampton and East Hampton may finally put a dent in the so-called “trade parade” commuter traffic jam that severely clogs the South Fork with a public transit network beginning early next year that will take workers who live west of the area directly to their individual places of work here and back.

Sparked by a matching grant of $500,000 from New York State and a Long Island Rail Road pledge to run extra trains between Speonk and Montauk, the two towns have been jointly developing a proposal for what they call a “last mile” commuter connection service to take workers from local train stations directly to their jobs in the mornings and back in the afternoons beginning early in 2019.

The plan may “not replace automobiles,” commented Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who worked to obtain the state grant and the LIRR pledge, “but it will mitigate some of the issue” by convincing some people to forego their cars.

Exactly how it will work — using busses, vans, taxis and ride-sharing services are options — all depends on what the towns call for in the Request for Proposals (RFP) respective planning staffs have been developing. It will be finalized and distributed to potential bidders by mid-August, according to a timeline that was presented to the East Hampton Town Board at its work session on Tuesday, July 17, by the town’s assistant planning director, Joanne Pahwul. Mr. Thiele and representatives of the LIRR also attended the session.

Ms. Pahwul said the “last mile” fare tentatively would be $1 to be added to the LIRR one-way ticket price “in-zone” between Westhampton and Montauk of $3.25. The fare from Speonk, which is in a different LIRR fare zone, would be $6.25 plus the “last mile” fare of $1. Books of tickets will be sold in town hall, she said.

Southampton Town’s director of public transportation and traffic safety Tom Neely was scheduled to make a similar presentation to the Southampton Town Board at its work session on Thursday, June 19. Mr. Neely, who also attended the East Hampton session, said Wednesday his presentation might also include details of the draft RFP as it currently stands.

Noting that past planning studies have called for commuter train service for non-resident South Fork workers since the 1990s, Assemblyman Thiele told the East Hampton Town Board during Tuesday’s presentation that the LIRR and the towns had worked together a decade ago to provide South Fork commuter service between Montauk and Speonk, when the county was widening County Road 39 and it was “pretty successful.”

While praising the railroad for its cooperation and pledge to add service “after a decade of lobbying”, Mr. Thiele said the key to getting workers out of their cars was to provide “last mile” service from train stations directly to their places of work. “Ten years ago, it was a bus shuttle” that provided that link. Now other options may be available, such a ride-sharing services, he said.

Ms. Pahwul told the board that 7,000 to 8,000 people used the service each month in November, December and January of 2007 and 2008, or about 400 a day, while the county was widening County Road 39. After the highway construction was finished, ridership fell to 3200 or about 150 a day in May. There was no charge then for the connecting bus service, which took riders into business centers but not individual places of work.

The service was available only five days a week from November through April and three days a week from May to June, Ms. Pahwul said. Another “issue” that may have suppressed ridership, she said, was westbound departures that left at 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., with a 5:45 p.m. bus service that got stuck in the usual “trade parade” traffic.

She said the new service will have eastbound trains at 7 and 9 a.m. from Hampton Bays or Westhampton and departures around 5 p.m. from East Hampton, although she added the times were “not set in stone.”

She said the two towns’ RFP will call for a vehicle to provide service between Montauk and East Hampton.

According to the timeline Ms. Pahwul presented Tuesday, the East Hampton Town Board will have to approve the joint RFP by mid-August. It will be distributed by the Town of Southampton, which will receive the resulting bids. Both towns will meet jointly to review the bids beginning in October. They will award winning bids by the end of December with the “last mile” service starting in March, after the LIRR has launched its extra trains.