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Mar 19, 2019 4:19 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

South Fork Commuter Connection Off To Slow Start

A handful of riders disembarked from a Long Island Rail Road train in East Hampton just before 9 a.m. on Tuesday. KYRIL BROMLEY
Mar 20, 2019 3:37 PM

Ridership on the South Fork Commuter Connection, which launched nearly three weeks ago, remains low but is expected to pick up as the morning and afternoon “trade parade” swells in the coming weeks.

Most people suggest—and officials hope—that once the constant caravan of landscapers, construction workers and pool cleaners gets up to full speed, more commuters will scramble to rearrange their schedules to avoid the jam and take the rail-and-shuttle system to work.

Robert Ross, the vice president of community and government relations at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, said on Tuesday that he knows of only one or two people out of the 1,200 employees at the hospital who currently take the train to work.

Roughly 70 percent of hospital employees travel from west of the Shinnecock Canal, where the rush hour jams begin to stack up.

But one of the problems with the new rail-to-shuttle service, Mr. Ross said, is the timing of the trains and the buses being provided by the Hampton Hopper and Hampton Jitney, and being paid for by the towns of Southampton and East Hampton to get people from the train stations to work. The service’s schedule does not always coincide with the shifts the employees work.

The nursing staff begins its shift at 7 a.m., so the 6:16 a.m. train from Speonk that arrives in Southampton by 6:45 a.m. will work for those employees. But the train back to Speonk, which leaves Southampton at 3:31 p.m., makes things a bit tight when the shifts end at 3 p.m.

The commuter shuttle, which costs riders an additional $1, on top of the $3.25 one-way fee to ride the train, leaves Stony Brook Southampton Hospital at 3:10 p.m. and drops passengers off at the train station at 3:31 p.m., just in time for the train’s departure to the west.

If an employee misses the bus, the only other current alternative would be to leave the train station at 5:33 p.m., two and a half hours after the shift ends.

The schedule may not work for other employees of the hospital who start at different times of the day, he said. Still, Mr. Ross said they are encouraging department heads to be flexible with schedules so that employees can take the train and shuttle to work.

“The hospital is really pushing it,” he said. “We are very enthusiastic and supportive of this.”

Mike Kehoe, 29, of Hampton Bays shared his experience with taking the train from Hampton Bays to Bridgehampton, and since the Commuter Connection kicked off, he has ridden it to work most days.

During the winter, he said, it takes about 30 minutes to travel from his house to his office. Once the traffic starts up in the spring, however, his commute can take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half.

To get from Hampton Bays to Bridgehampton in the morning, commuters can take either the 6:35 a.m. train and get to Bridgehampton by 6:53 a.m., or the 8:26 a.m. train, which arrives in Bridgehampton at 8:44 a.m.

Mr. Kehoe said he takes advantage of his time on the train to work, rather than sitting behind the wheel of his car.

Michael Adelson, the school psychologist at Montauk Public School, said in an email that he commutes by car from Hampton Bays to Montauk daily and would like to take advantage of the rail, but scheduling is a problem. “Our school dismisses at 3:00 and the train leaves at 2:48,” he said in the email, referring to the evening trains. “The next train is not until 4:50.”

As far as how many riders have taken the train, the MTA does not have the figures yet, but rider feedback, according to MTA Deputy Communications Director Aaron Donovan, has been positive.

“We’re open to amending the schedules depending on customer demand, whenever and wherever we have the flexibility to do so,” he said on Tuesday.

Last week, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman concurred that ridership was still low, but he, too, expects it to increase along with traffic from the west. Calls to East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc were not returned.

Calls to various school districts on the South Fork seeking input on whether staff are taking the trains were not returned.

At the East Hampton train station, a shuttle driver said he regularly picks up between one and three riders from the early train, which arrives at 7:03 a.m., but does not pick up any from the train that arrives at 8:54 a.m. The driver added that many of the riders are going to work at the hospital.

Mr. Ross said officials at the hospital met with town officials and a number of agencies before the kickoff of the commuter rail to come up with times that would work best for the employees.

Only one train track spans the length of the South Fork, which causes some issues with scheduling of trains.

The current schedule allows for the Speonk train to travel to Amagansett before heading west, and making its final stop at Hampton Bays instead of Speonk before heading east again to Montauk.

Mr. Donovan said one of the priorities when scheduling the trains was to make sure the second train reaches Montauk by 9 a.m. In order to make that work, the train needed to leave from Hampton Bays to begin its trek east to Montauk—it arrives at 9:19 a.m.

Still, commuters like Mr. Kehoe are hopeful that the South Fork Commuter Connection will continue to be an option.

Mr. Ross said the hospital plans to hold a transportation fair for its employees in April to show them what opportunities are available for getting to the East End.

One option is a 511NY Rideshare, which, according to its site, offers a guarantee ride program at no cost to the rider. The idea is if a person misses the train or shuttle from work—or needs to leave early because of an emergency—it will pay for the person to get to their car by way of public transportation or a taxi.

The public relations office at 511NY Rideshare did not immediately respond to questions regarding the program.

The issue of the shuttle making it to the train station in Southampton for riders from the hospital has some officials looking at alternatives.

Mr. Ross said the hospital is weighing options of providing its own bus for its employees, to ensure riders get to the station by 3:31 p.m., though details were not available, as the plan is still in its preliminary stages.

He said during the U.S. Open last summer, the hospital, which supplied staff to man the First Aid Tents, offered a similar service for its employees. Mr. Ross said it worked, and the employees loved it.

But he is in agreement that people will not begin to reevaluate taking the train until the traffic picks up, like on Tuesday morning.

“This morning, when I was driving out of my subdivision, it was all backed up on the side roads and on Montauk Highway,” Mr. Ross said on Tuesday, reflecting on his commute from Hampton Bays. “I thought to myself, it has started.”

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Gee wiz no ones taking the train. Another 500k down the toilet. lol
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Mar 20, 19 1:03 PM
SMFH. Another harebrained plan from Fred Thiele.
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Mar 20, 19 4:19 PM
3 members liked this comment
I would love to see how they projected that this would be successful. As someone who uses the LIRR and NYC transit system regularly, unless there is consistent and frequent service, it is difficult to use the system. I spent many a night sleeping in my office and showering in the gym in the morning because I missed a train or bus to return home. I wonder if any of the elected officials that supported this every really used and depended on mass transit? I seriously doubt it.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Mar 20, 19 1:35 PM
1 member liked this comment
If everyone worked at the train station, this would have been a fantastic idea.

Now,you have to get people to where they work. You need a series of electric shuttles that make stops at strategic places around town like main streets, hospital,schools,Mariner Drive etc...
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Mar 20, 19 1:50 PM
That is already in place. There is a shuttle to take people to major points to/from the train station.
By EQMama (29), East Quogue on Mar 20, 19 2:55 PM
1 member liked this comment
Believe it or not, reading the article can be helpful.
By Enviro Guy (55), Southampton on Mar 21, 19 9:19 AM
People will drive cars when traffic is light, which is how it’s been since October. When the traffic starts it’s annual 6 month rush hour gridlock, let’s look at the train ridership numbers then.
By Non-Political (125), Hampton Bays on Mar 20, 19 5:26 PM
Who do you think is going to take the train? How many people have steady work hours and can wait hours if they miss a train?
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Mar 20, 19 6:40 PM
2 members liked this comment
I imagine the ones who would be waiting hours in traffic anyway won't mind.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Mar 21, 19 8:50 AM
You apparently have never been stranded with no way to get home due a failure of mass transit in comparing being stuck in a car and stranded miles from home. As they say "walk a mile in someone's shoes first.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Mar 21, 19 2:17 PM
That's a pretty big assumption. You also didn't say "no way to get home" but "wait for hours" instead.

Is it radically different to wait hours sitting on a bench or sitting in traffic? I guess in a car you still need to keep your eyes on the road.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Mar 21, 19 2:27 PM
You often post just to be contrary. Again, unless you RELY on mass transit and just use it to go to the Montauk St. Patrick's Day Parade, you cannot fully understand what it is like when there is not frequent and regular transportation. Take for instance, when you have a family emergency (as I recently have had) and NO WAY to get there via mass transit. If you understood, I doubt you would be so smug about sitting in traffic.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Mar 21, 19 2:55 PM
What a strange turn this conversation has taken.

Weren't you talking about people with "steady work hours" using the train to commute and whether they "can wait hours if they miss a train" or not?

Because that's the comment I responded to.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Mar 21, 19 9:47 PM
No actually it is the same fact pattern that you seem not to grasp unless you RELY on mass transit - when there is not a regular schedule of trains, it will NOT work. A person cannot be miles from his home and only have 1 or 2 trains to return. It may be a novelty for a day or two or a safe way to get to the Montauk Parade so you don't get a DWI, but otherwise, it DOESN'T work.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Mar 22, 19 10:28 AM
Is it the same fact pattern? Aren't commuting and family emergencies very distinct situations?
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Mar 22, 19 10:36 AM
No the fact pattern is that for a mass transit system to work for a substantial population, there needs to be a regular and consistent train schedule. The family emergency, waiting hours for a train or maybe missing the last train are just examples of failure, not the fact pattern.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Mar 22, 19 3:13 PM
I think you're confusing "fact pattern" with "thesis" but more importantly, what do you think is the purpose of the South Fork Commuter Connection?

It certainly isn't to "work for a substantial population" who needs a "regular and consistent train schedule" but specifically to benefit commuters during peak hours.

Which is why I point out that, if a person misses their intended train and must wait hours sitting on a bench, are they really worse off than if they had spent the same ...more
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Mar 22, 19 5:00 PM
I hope Jay has been flexible with Town Hall working hours. Town Hall workers may not feel comfortable taking the shuttle and worry about the minutes they will be docked because of this train schedule that Jay negotiated.
By A Great American (103), East Quogue on Mar 20, 19 10:14 PM
God-forbid anything new is tried. Can't we just give it a chance for a few months to see if it works and make some appropriate changes?
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on Mar 21, 19 8:25 AM
2 members liked this comment
Everyone might as well relax . . .

This is going to take years to work out, and will require LOTS of adjustments, modifications, nuanced solutions, and so forth.

. . . plus patience . . . which obviously is in very short supply here:

"Type first -- think later!"

"When in doubt start talking!"

Time to get the PBR TA online . . . Peconic Bay Regional Transit Authority.

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 21, 19 9:01 AM
4 people got off in Southampton at 650am March 21st. One of them brought his bike. There were 2 Hopper's standing by and 2 people got on one of them. The only good news is there seemed to be 20 -30 on the train headed east of Southampton.
By eastender09 (29), southampton on Mar 21, 19 9:36 AM
I wonder how many of you all posting EVER relied on mass transit to get anywhere. I post from over 30 years of experience. I happen to be legally blind and CAN'T drive and I can tell you that traveling on the LIRR east of Babylon is ridiculous. If the elected officials wanted to do something meaningful instead of wasting money, they should have spoken to those that actually understand what it like to use mass transit and not people RELY on mass transit and some of those posting who have no idea.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Mar 21, 19 2:05 PM
I challenge all of you who posted in favor of this to put your car away for one month (preferably in the middle of winter) and use mass transit EVERYWHERE. When you do, then you can speak from experience.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Mar 21, 19 2:07 PM
A really dumb idea. Why doesn't everyone admit there is NO WAY to fix the traffic. If it gets bad enough, people will leave and the traffic will go away.
By Babyboo (293), Hampton Bays on Mar 21, 19 4:09 PM
How much fuel does the train use and the union employees? You could chauffer them cheaper.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Mar 21, 19 4:10 PM
remove the trains from speonk east. Replace with light rail or buses going east and west. Or limited access roadway with a toll. The NYC people will not like it so serve Rose to each commuter!
By eastender09 (29), southampton on Mar 22, 19 8:39 AM
I didn't hear anything from the SH Town transportation directer that gets paid a lot for the hair brain idea. What exactly does he do??? Neely where are you???
Jay, get a stretch limo and it would be a lot cheaper. Share taxis, town will pay... Run shuttle buses all the way, Ha, HOV lane [left lane] to Montauk...
I didn,t pick where you live or where you work... Went to Kennibunkport once, president was in town. Traffic was horrible and decided to stop and ask directions and why the traffic ...more
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Mar 22, 19 9:22 PM
Most of us at the hospital actually work 7-7, not 7-3. The current train schedule makes it impossible to even try to get home from work!

Most of the retail shops in Southampton and East Hampton are open 10-7.

A 730pm Southampton pick-up would help tremendously! Who picked these current times without going door to door in our villages' main streets and spending a day walking around the hospital asking real people their schedules??!?

Change the current times and this could ...more
By ibscharlie (6), Southampton on Mar 23, 19 12:50 PM
1 member liked this comment
Mon 3/25/19 645am 3 get off in southampton 1 gets on 8 people heading east
By eastender09 (29), southampton on Mar 29, 19 3:41 PM
had early test at hospital wed am got done 830 Hopper dropped off TWO yesTWO uniformed hospital workers NOT WORKING!!!!
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Mar 29, 19 7:56 PM
I applaud the officials who got this up and running, but it's not going to work. The east bound train schedule seems reasonable, but the West bound evening schedule is ridiculous. Trades people obviously aren't going to use this, so it's meant for either office workers, or those in a retail type of environment. And neither of those can probably get out of work and manage to get to the station for a 5:15.
By nyc511 (15), Southampton on Apr 4, 19 12:52 PM