Hopper Hopping, but at a Loss

The Hampton Hopper shuttle bus service in Montauk, underwritten by East Hampton Town with a $100,000 state grant, was successful in attracting riders last summer, but the company lost money providing the service, Derek Kleinow, Hampton Hopper’s owner, reported to the town board on Tuesday.

The service ran daily from June 28 through Labor Day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with two buses making 15 stops along a route from the campground at Hither Hills into downtown Montauk and to and from the dock area. Buses made two scheduled stops per hour at 10 designated bus stops; there were five additional locations at which riders could flag buses down. 

Mr. Kleinow said that during the pilot summer, the Hopper provided 20,715 rides, “a number that we’re really happy about.” 

The average number of rides provided daily throughout the whole season was just over 300; however, ridership grew as the summer wore on, Mr. Kleinow said, reaching a maximum in mid-August, when there were 370 rides provided on an average day. 

Local employees as well as visitors to Montauk used the service, he said, and the feedback from passengers was “extremely positive.”

The largest number of riders used the downtown Montauk stop at the Chamber of Commerce building; pickups and drop-offs at the docks were the next most frequent, and passengers getting on and off at the Montauk Yacht Club were the third largest group. 

A Hampton Hopper app was downloaded 3,600 times during the Montauk Hampton Hopper season, said Mr. Kleinow, in addition to 10,000 previous downloads. The app allowed riders to see the location of buses in real time, reassuring workers, Mr. Kleinow surmised, that they could rely on the buses to get them to work at a designated time.

While Hampton Hopper had projected a loss of $10,250 for the season, the loss in fact was $51,000, Mr. Kleinow said. Costs were higher than anticipated for vehicle maintenance and insurance as well as labor, he said, and anticipated income from ads on the shuttle buses did not materialize. 

Should the town seek to continue the service, he asked the board to consider increasing the budget for it, and to issue a request for proposals for the service earlier in the year, providing companies like his, who would like to submit proposals, with more time to develop an adequate business plan. In addition, he said, a longer-term contract, perhaps for three to five years rather than just a season, would be helpful. Rides should remain free, he said.

Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell congratulated Mr. Kleinow and Rob Dunn, Hampton Hopper’s operations and charter manager, who was also at this week’s meeting, on their commitment to making the shuttle bus service successful. “We’ve proven there’s a tremendous demand for this,” Mr. Cantwell said. “It’s clearly a model that worked, and has potential to be expanded in the future.”

He said that New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. was “optimistic” that state money would be provided for the service next year, and that there is “likely to be a recurring source of funding” for the shuttle. The board will work on issuing a call for proposals for next summer’s service by the end of 2017, Mr. Cantwell said. 

Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, who is the board’s representative on the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee, said members of the group erupted in applause when he reported that more than 20,000 trips had been taken by Hampton Hopper riders, likely avoiding a similar number of trips by individual vehicles and reducing traffic. 

“They totally supported it and want to see it continue,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc of the committee’s stance toward the bus shuttle.