The East Hampton Town Board will vote tonight on a resolution to request that the Long Island Rail Road reduce by $1 the South Fork Commuter Connection fare for passengers traveling between Speonk and Montauk.
The move follows a Nov. 12 presentation by JoAnne Pahwul, the planning director, who explained that such a reduction would serve to increase ridership by making tickets not just less expensive but also easier to obtain.
Launched in March, the South Fork Commuter Connection added two eastbound trains on weekday mornings and an additional westbound train in the afternoon. The impetus was an effort to alleviate traffic congestion, particularly the “trade parade” that travels eastward on Montauk Highway in the mornings and returns west in afternoons and evenings. As part of the program, a “last mile” shuttle was launched in conjunction with the rail service to take commuters to and from their workplaces and commercial hubs.
The South Fork Commuter Connection’s one-way fare for travel between Speonk and Montauk is $4.25, with $1 of the total representing the last mile shuttle fare. Ms. Pahwul explained that to take advantage of the shuttle service, passengers must buy a South Fork Commuter Connection ticket, which is available only at full-service ticket machines at the Speonk, Westhampton, Hampton Bays, and Southampton stations “because at this point it’s just promotional.” They are not available online, as part of weekly or monthly bundles, or through the L.I.R.R.’s eTix mobile ticketing app.
The L.I.R.R. returns the $1 collected with each South Fork Commuter Connection ticket to the Towns of East Hampton and Southampton, but state funding already pays for the shuttle service, which is provided by the Hampton Hopper. Moreover, “This has not been proven to be a significant source of revenue,” Ms. Pahwul said. At its peak in August, the South Fork Commuter Connection served around 100 passengers per week, or “$100 coming back to the town,” she said.
In consultation with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., Ms. Pahwul said, “We’re proposing to eliminate that dollar shuttle fare.” Instead, the regular $3.25 fare for travel within a fare zone would allow passengers to purchase tickets online, as well as weekly and monthly passes. The shuttle would be free. Only passengers boarding at Speonk, which is in a different fare zone, would need to purchase South Fork Commuter Connection tickets, or pay the $6.50 regular fare for eastbound travel.
The change would go into effect on Jan. 13, Ms. Pahwul said.
The Southampton Town Board has already approved a resolution requesting that the L.I.R.R. eliminate the $1 collected for the last-mile shuttle.
In East Hampton, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and his colleagues agreed that eliminating the additional dollar from the fare would encourage greater participation. “I think it’s been a very welcome service,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, “and we’d like to see it expand because it eliminates a lot of commuter traffic potentially heading east in the morning and west in the afternoons.”
Several employees of the town take advantage of the program, he said, and ridership has increased since its launch.
Indeed, Ms. Pahwul cited statistics showing an approximate doubling of the number of tickets sold per month from the program’s launch to its peak. “There have been over 3,700 South Fork Commuter Connection tickets sold — just South Fork Commuter Connection tickets — but the regular one-way railroad tickets have increased significantly,” she said.
In March 2018, the L.I.R.R. sold 742 one-way tickets between Speonk and Montauk. In March of this year, 2,358 were sold. “Over all, the total from January through August doubled from approximately 15,000 in 2018 to over 30,000 in 2019. There is evidence that the overall program is successful.”
“We’ll move forward with the supporting resolution,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.