The East Hampton Town Board on January 17 authorized a contract with Hampton Hopper, a bus service already doing business with the town, to shuttle commuters between train stations and their places of employment. The shuttle service is part of a joint effort between the town and the Long Island Rail Road to provide better weekday commuter service to the South Fork starting March 4. The Southampton Town Board was expected to take similar action at its January 22 meeting.
Two additional trains will run each weekday morning from Speonk. The earlier train will terminate in Amagansett. It will be followed by a second train, which will run to Montauk. In the late afternoon, the two trains will head back west to Speonk.
Shuttle bus service was needed to help commuters complete their journey to their workplaces. “The Town of East Hampton and Southampton are working closely together to provide the ‘last mile’ of service to get riders from the train stations to their workplaces,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman explained.
East Hampton and Southampton towns are splitting a $500,000 grant from the state in order to pay for the shuttle service. According to a January 15 presentation made to the East Hampton Town Board by Jeanne Carroza, tickets will cost $1. The program is currently scheduled to run for one year, Carroza said.
Carroza served on a three-person committee appointed by the town board to vet the offers from the competing bus companies. Her fellow committee members were Joanne Pilgrim, executive assistant to East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, and JoAnne Pahwul, East Hampton Town’s assistant planning director.
Southampton Town is contracting with both the Hampton Jitney and the Hampton Hopper companies to provide like service for that town. The Hampton Jitney will run connecting shuttle buses to and from the Bridgehampton train station, while the Hampton Hopper will run buses from the Southampton Village train station.
In East Hampton, the Hopper buses will connect workers to and from businesses in Springs. In addition, workers headed to Montauk who ride the early eastbound train, which arrives in East Hampton Village at 7:03 AM and terminates in Amagansett, will be able to board a bus in East Hampton headed to Montauk. Each bus seats 25.
While the two towns are splitting the $500,000 grant, they were left to determine, separately, which bus companies to contract. They each reached out to five different companies.
Hampton Jitney and Hampton Hopper are both aware of South Fork commuter needs, since they already operate services in both towns. The Jitney runs on behalf of Suffolk County Transit the 10B and 10C buses, which connect Montauk, East Hampton, Springs, and Bridgehampton, while the Hopper runs an app-based commuter service during the summer season, with one route looping through Montauk, and another connecting Montauk and points west all the way to Hampton Bays.
There is one caveat: during the summer season, there will be no westbound evening LIRR commuter service on Fridays. That is because of the heavy eastbound Friday afternoon service for weekenders, and the lack of enough sidings from Southampton east where trains can be held to allow trains headed in the opposite direction to pass. The Cannonball, which leaves Penn Station a few minutes after 4 PM every Friday during the season, is the busiest single trip on the LIRR, and one of the few to show an annual profit, according to LIRR records.
The commuter program is an experiment, but one that both town boards hope thrives. “We hope this added train service will be a game-changer for the South Fork,” Schneiderman said. Carroza told the East Hampton Town Board on January 15 that the exact bus routes “are to be determined, and modified based on ridership.”
“There is no way of knowing, up front, how many riders, or what the final destinations are going to be on any given day, so we have looked at this to try and cover the broadest number of bases,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Van Scoyoc said January 15. It took months of negotiations with the LIRR on one side, and Schneiderman and Van Scoyoc, along with New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Kenneth LaValle, on the other, before the LIRR agreed to implement the program.
Van Scoyoc said that the goal was to provide reliable service for commuters. Too many businesses struggle each summer season to find workers who will make the daunting commute to the South Fork, sitting in hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic, he said.
“This not a perfect situation,” Van Scoyoc said. “We need to make the best of what the LIRR offered.” While this is just a first step, Van Scoyoc told the board, it is “critical.” Hopefully, he said, the day will come when, with more sidings added along the line, that the South Fork might have its own train, dedicated to making regular runs every day between Speonk and Montauk.