By Stephen J. Kotz
It was during the deep recession of 1973-74, a downturn made all that much worse by the emergence of a little understood force called the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, that Jim Davidson had an idea.
“He bought two vans with bike racks and envisioned an intra-town service for people who didn’t want to drive from East Hampton to Montauk or Southampton to Sag Harbor during the oil crisis,” said vice president Andrew Lynch.
And so, the Hampton Jitney was born 40 years ago.
To celebrate the milestone, the company, whose dark green coaches are now a regular sight from the Montauk Highway to the Long Island Expressway and beyond, is planning a number of promotions this year kicking off with a “Design a Jitney” contest.
Artists have been invited to submit plans using the company’s logo and celebrating its anniversary. The winning design will be used to wrap one bus in the company’s fleet. And the winner will get complimentary tickets for use on the company’s Hamptons to New York City line.
It didn’t take long for Mr. Davidson to realize that a localized bus service wouldn’t cut it. “That fall, he quickly realized he wasn’t going to be able to make the payments on his vans because there was no business,” Mr. Lynch said. “One of his customers asked him to take him and his family back to the city, so he started doing that.”
For years, Mr. Davidson, a former Madison Avenue advertising executive, ran his company from a potato barn on his Bridgehampton property. In 1982, he was successful enough that he was able to purchase the Omni Building, a former catering hall and roller rink, on County Road 39 in Southampton.
Mr. Lynch’s parents purchased the business from Mr. Davidson in 1988, shortly before his death. Today, their son, Geoffrey Lynch, is the company’s president.
Andrew Lynch said that over the years, several competitors have challenged the company on its turf, but none have been able to make a serious dent in its business. “Our biggest competition has always been cars,” he said. “A key to our success is frequency, running a frequent schedule even when it doesn’t pay to do so.”
Besides its bread-and-butter business moving weekenders back and forth between the city and providing a convenient link during the week for business travelers, the Hampton Jitney has branched out in several directions.
In 2006, the company purchased the Sunrise Coaches and began providing service from the North Fork to the city. It also offers a popular airport connection service to MacArthur (Islip), Kennedy and LaGuardia.
“Charters are a really big part of our business,” said Mr. Lynch. “We do school trips, corporate events, weddings, ski trips and Broadway show day trips.”
The Jitney even provides excursions to Mets and Yankees games. “We do a lot of Yankees games,” Mr. Lynch said. “We had tickets for the last home game this year, which will be Derek Jeter’s last game, and they sold out in two days.”
The company even offers a Florida service that spares snowbirds from the need to drive to their winter homes. They simply drop off their cars, which are loaded on a car carrier, before boarding a bus that will take them to their destination.
The company continues to expand. It recently acquired a maintenance facility in Calverton that will also allow it to provide better service to the North Fork and Riverhead, Mr. Lynch said.
“We been positioning ourselves for the long haul, not the quick dollar,” Mr. Lynch said of the reason for the company’s success. “We really have become part of the history and social fabric of the community.”
For more information, visit hamptonjitney.com.