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Mar 5, 2019 1:51 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

South Fork Commuter Connection Kicked Off In East Hampton On Monday

The South Fork Commuter Connection train pulling into the East Hampton Train Station on Tuesday.  ELIZABETH VESPE
Mar 5, 2019 2:00 PM

A layer of snow on Monday didn’t stop East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc from greeting the South Fork Commuter Connection on its first day as a 8:54 a.m. train cruised into the East Hampton train station. His executive assistant, Joanne Pilgrim, and Councilwoman Kathee-Burke Gonzalez were standing by to greet commuters as well.

Pablo Gimenez, the driver of the small aqua-colored Hampton Hopper bus, was waiting for passengers to take his shuttle to their place of employment.

Vicki Cooper, the shelter director for The Retreat, was the first person to catch a ride with him. She had boarded the Long Island Rail Road train in Hampton Bays at 8:26 a.m. She didn’t have much company.

“We suspect the low numbers are due to the inclement weather,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, adding that he was hopeful more people would use the Commuter Connection when the weather improved. A combination of two-hour delays at the public schools along with the lack of an eastbound trade parade on a snowy day may have had an impact on the number of people who took the commuter train east that day, he said.

Ms. Pilgrim said that, according to the train conductor, there were about eight passengers on each of the two eastbound commuter train runs, which originated in Speonk, on Monday morning, with only some of them disembarking in East Hampton and only one person going on to take the shuttle in East Hampton to get to work.

Ridership was up a little higher on Tuesday morning. Rob Dunn, driver and operations manager for the Hampton Hopper, said the train’s conductor informed him that 12 passengers boarded at the 6:35 a.m. Hampton Bays stop. Mr. Dunn stood near the East Hampton train platform at 7:03 a.m. waiting to greet potential passengers that day.

Luisa Arias, a Flanders resident, had boarded the train in Hampton Bays at 6:35 a.m. to get to her job as an administrative assistant at The Retreat.

“I wanted to give it a try before summer to see how long it takes,” she said of her first experience using the Commuter Connection. “This is really great,” she told Mr. Dunn after boarding the bus. “It’s awesome.”

Typically, Ms. Arias said, she drives to East Hampton from Flanders, often leaving home at 6 a.m. to get to work at about 7 or 7:15 a.m. In summer, Ms. Arias said, her morning commute takes easily two or even two and a half hours. “Even at 6 a.m., there is traffic,” she said. “It’s a long drive—and on the way back home, too. The traffic is just horrible in the summer.”

Mr. Dunn handed her an aqua-colored schedule card so she could plan her return trip to the station to catch a train at 3:12 p.m. “You could even text the Hopper so we know exactly when and where you’ll be,” he told Ms. Arias.

On Monday, Mr. Dunn said, he had driven the local route in Southampton, with a total of four people riding that shuttle that day.

He said he believes ridership will increase as the weather gets warmer and contractors and landscapers start coming out to the Hamptons in the early morning.

“When people start sitting in traffic in five or six weeks, that’s when they’re going to want to use the Commuter Connection,” Mr. Dunn said.

The first eastbound train, which left Speonk at 6:16 a.m., made stops in Westhampton Beach and Hampton Bays before it continued on to stops in Bridgehampton, East Hampton and Amagansett.

At a Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Saturday, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. had reminded those in attendance that the Commuter Connection was kicking off on Monday, explaining that the long-planned service was designed to help get members of the workforce to their jobs on the East End.

“It’s an affordable option and a convenience for commuters,” Mr. Thiele said, nothing the cost of $4.25, and, without the shuttle bus, $3.25.

“Hopefully, this service will take off,” he added optimistically.

For more information about the Commuter Connection, visit www.mta.info.

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