On Thursday morning, the inaugural departure of the Peconic Bay Water Jitney ferry service from Greenport to Sag Harbor had just one passenger — Hampton Jitney Vice President Andrew Lynch.
“We were biting our nails a little bit with me being the only passenger on the 7 a.m., but as the weekend progressed we were pleasantly surprised by the number of people using the ferry,” said Lynch on Tuesday.
For East Hampton resident Jane Stuart, an avid fan of the North Fork, finding a new way to travel to Greenport without a car was an experience she could not pass up. On Tuesday morning, Stewart and Patty Robert, a Staten Island resident visiting for the holiday, boarded the noon ferry from Long Wharf, excited at the prospect of meeting friends in Greenport for lunch and coming back to Sag Harbor as a group for dinner.
“Usually I take my car over,” said Stuart, as the ferry glided out of the harbor and into Peconic Bay. “This is much better. We get to be out on the beautiful water for 40 minutes each way. It’s almost like owning your own boat.”
Stuart and Robert made their way to the ferry through the Hampton Jitney’s shuttle service, which picks up people at Pierson High School, where passengers from outside Sag Harbor have been encouraged to park their cars.
“It was easy, smooth,” said Stuart. “I will definitely be doing this again.”
The Peconic Bay Water Jitney, operating on a catamaran coined the “John Keith,” began traversing Peconic Bay between Sag Harbor and Greenport last Thursday. For the next several months, the Hampton Jitney company will assess the financial viability of the passenger ferry service, which has been approved by the villages of Greenport and Sag Harbor on a temporary basis for this summer. Those villages will also be studying the economic, traffic and parking impacts the service has on their communities to discern whether or not this concept holds water for everyone involved in the long term.
According to Jim Ryan, of Response Marine, who is leading operations of the ferry service, this past holiday weekend ran smoothly, and ridership after the inaugural voyage was in line with what he had hoped for during what he called the ferry’s “soft opening.”
“We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have taken it,” agreed Lynch. “Especially since we have not even really advertised it yet.”
According to Lynch, over the weekend an average of 30 passengers rode on the 53-passenger vessel.
“We even had one trip coming back from Sag Harbor on Sunday that was sold out,” he said.
Late Wednesday night, Lunch noted the Jitney had finally reached a deal with the Suffolk County Transit Authority and East Hampton to allow for a bus route between East Hampton and Sag Harbor for those looking to incorporate the Long Island Railroad or Suffolk County Transit Authority into their mass transit traveling options, and to reduce parking and traffic woes in Sag Harbor Village.
Starting at 9:15 a.m. the shuttle will make six loops – seven on Friday and Saturday – throughout the day, stopping at EAst Hampton’s Lumber Lane parking lot for a pick-up before a stop at the East Hampton Railroad Station. From there is will head to the Pierson High School parking lot to pick up passengers before dropping off at Long Wharf.
“We want people to use as many mass transit options as possible,” said Lynch. “Now that there is more signage, we are hoping to see an increase there.”
The company is directing those who make reservations on the ferry and are driving to Sag Harbor for the service to the Pierson High School parking lot, which they are leasing for the summer from the school district. The shuttle bus is included in the $20 round trip fare for the ferry. Discounted tickets are available for children under 13 and a one-way fare is $11. Bikes ride free.
Service begins in Greenport at 7 a.m., the ferry’s first Long Wharf departure at 8 a.m. except on Sundays when service begins an hour later. The ferry, which takes about 40 minutes, departs on the hour, leaving Greenport at 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. with service from Sag Harbor at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. There is an additional 10 p.m. departure from Greenport on Fridays and Saturdays with an 11 p.m. boat out of Sag Harbor as well.
For Dr. Tom Halton, a Sag Harbor resident and member of the village’s Harbor Committee, Tuesday marked his first trip on the ferry. He was joined by his wife, Diane and daughter, Corrine, who shopped in Greenport while Dr. Halton explored the nautical history of the village – a hobby of his.
“I think it is just a wonderful way to travel,” he said on his return trip to Sag Harbor. “I am just thanking God the village decided to give this a chance. It’s a really beautiful ride.”
While a number of residents and business owners in Sag Harbor raised concerns with the Sag Harbor Village Board before it approved the ferry service on a trail basis for this summer season, according to village clerk Beth Kamper there have been no complaints logged with the village or the police department since the ferry launched.
Kamper joined Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano and Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley on a Friday voyage to Greenport. Mayor Gilbride said he spent most of his time in Greenport looking at local shops and asking business owners what they thought of the service.
“Everyone seemed pretty happy to see us,” he said on Monday.
Mayor Gilbride, Chief Fabiano, Yardley, Kamper and Sag Harbor Planning Board Chairman Neil Slevin will study the service this summer with the help of environmental planning consultant Rich Warren and Harbor Committee Chairman Bruce Tait.
“If it works, it works and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” said Mayor Gilbride. “But we had to give it a chance.”