This week, the Sag Harbor Village Board got an update from Geoffrey Lynch, president of the Hampton Jitney, about how the Peconic Bay Water Jitney worked out last summer.
The ferry service, which operated using a leased boat with capacity for 70 walk-on passengers, plied the waters between Sag Harbor and Greenport from late June through the end of September.
Despite early predictions of doom and gloom from some naysayers who warned of parking woes, traffic nightmares, undesirables from other shores and an increase in pollution, virtually none of that came to pass. Within weeks, critiques were silenced, fears failed to materialize and both tourists and residents alike were gladly forking over $20 for the privilege of spending a couple hours on the water and visiting a village across the bay.
All in all, it was a pleasant experience for the 16,000 plus passengers who tried out the service.
Which would point to signs that Lynch and his partners would be offering the ferry service again in the summer of 2013.
But alas, it is not to be.
Lynch conceded to the board on Tuesday night that though the service made $160,000 in its three month run, his company spent far more than that on leasing the boat, maintenance, fuel, dockage fees and staffing. Which means that last summer really was, in hindsight, a test run.
What is lacking in this equation for regular ferry service is funding. Lynch notes the operating expenses for the trial run were close to $500,000, making it an equation that really isn’t sustainable for a private business.
But by no means does that make last summer’s ferry service a failure. What it really is at this point is a vision.
Our vision is one in which water plays an integral role in moving people around the East End, as it did historically. But more importantly, it’s a vision that ties into the long-standing proposal of 5TRT (5 Towns Regional Transit) which includes bus and rail service as well — to create an integrated and complete transportation service. We’re talking here about a system that makes sense. East/west trains that are timed to be met by buses that take passengers north and south to final destinations (or a ferry waiting to make the next leg of the journey).
It’s not an impossible dream. Even the “set in its ways” Long Island Rail Road – long seen as more of a hindrance to regional transportation than an asset, is purchasing small, lightweight diesel units called “scoot” trains capable of operating a shuttle service between the East End towns with far greater frequency than the one or two trains we see out here in the off season. We’ve been paying the taxes to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for years, it’s about time we saw some return in the way of service geared toward our lifestyle.
The good news is, we are seeing beyond the gridlock to the point where people are beginning to understand what is possible in terms of transportation on the East End. Will the Peconic Bay Water Jitney be plying the waters between Greenport and Sag Harbor again next summer?
The answer is no.
But does the notion of the water taxi help build on a wider vision of efficient transportation options for East End residents?
The answer to that is a resounding yes.
While Lynch and his partners aren’t in a position to bring the service back to Sag Harbor in 2013, he is intrigued enough by the possibilities to look into other financing options — including funding on the federal level. If all goes well, in a few years this might be just one small part of a regional transportation solution that changes how we all work and play on the East End.
And we think that’s reason enough to consider last summer’s ferry run a success.