Southampton Town board members voted November 12 to eliminate the $1 shuttle bus fee linked with the South Fork Commuter Connection service.
Currently, it costs $4.25 to ride the train service that connects Speonk and Montauk. The $1 Hampton Jitney or Hampton Hopper shuttle bus service fee from the train station to local business centers is included in that cost. While anyone who does not want to take the shuttle has had the option of paying $3.25 for one-way transportation, board members are hoping this fee drop can streamline ticket purchases while increasing ridership.
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele proposed the $1 surcharge be dropped after statistics showed ridership through connected bus services dropped when compared to a pilot program conducted 10 years ago. Then, the bus service was free. Thiele got state representatives to urge the funding be secured in the state budget, and the Long Island Rail Road will be rebating the towns affiliated with the commuter connection service. The change will take effect beginning Monday, January 13.
East Hampton Town is looking to pass a similar resolution, discussed during a November 12 meeting at the Montauk Fire Department.
The Hamptons Hopper operates the shuttle buses in East Hampton connecting commuters from the train stations en route to local businesses.
The Long Island Rail Road runs three trains daily to service commuters who work on the South Fork but live west of the canal. The first departs Speonk at 6:16 AM, terminating at Amagansett; the second departs from Hampton Bays at 8:26 AM and the third leaves Speonk at 3 PM, both traveling to Montauk. The train from Speonk to Montauk operates Saturday through Thursday.
JoAnne Pahwul, the head of the East Hampton Town Planning Department, said business is booming for the program, which launched in March, saying it has spurred significant growth in overall railroad usage.
Pahwul crunched the numbers for the board, saying there were 324 tickets sold the first month. That doubled by the height of the summer season, and there have been 3700 tickets sold to date. Total ridership of those going from one South Fork town or hamlet to another has more than doubled. In the summer of 2018, the LIRR sold 742 one-way tickets to local users between Speonk and Montauk. That rose to 2538 in 2019. From January to August, local ridership doubled from 15,000 to 30,000.
An audience member at the town meeting asked if there were plans to start running the late commuter train on Fridays as well. Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc explained that is currently not feasible because of the train used by thousands of weekenders that depart Penn Station on Fridays at 4:06 PM. The South Fork is a single-track line, so one solution might be for the LIRR to create additional sidings along the South Fork line. The ideal scenario is to run a train between Southampton Village and Montauk throughout the day.
The Long Island Rail Road has also created other ways to pay for the South Fork Commuter Connection, including weekly and monthly passes. Tickets can now also be purchased through the LIRR app.
By Desirée Keegan and T.E. McMorrow