The jitney service between Port Jefferson and Stony Brook University is back on the menu for the spring and fall semesters, this time with extra funding from the Port Jeff Business Improvement District and a larger price tag.
The new service extends the service for an additional two weeks, from 10 to 12, and will run until midnight Fridays and Saturdays. The service also changes one of the pickups at Stony Brook University from the Chemistry Loop to the Hilton Garden Inn.
The BID is putting up $10,000 of its funds for the program, leaving Port Jefferson with just under $20,000 of the bill.
“We are proud to partner with the village in bringing the shuttle service back to our Business District,” said Roger Rutherford, BID president, in an online release.
At the Feb. 18 village board meeting, parking administrator Kevin Wood was seeking $24,608 in funds, per semester, to continue the PJ/SBU Shuttle for the next spring and fall semesters. The program is paid through parking meter funds.
However, Michelle Ferrante, senior account clerk, pointed out that any contract over $20,000 the village signs onto must go out to BID. This wouldn’t be a problem if the village were using its own jitney bus, however, the board voted last year to contract out to Bay Shore-based Suffolk Transportation Service, mainly due to the previous bus lack of Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and the overall failing quality of the previous vehicle.
The village has also lacked other intervillage public transit options since the BID-run program with Qwik Ride ended. Officials said those small cars had not done the job they needed them to do, rarely being there for people who requested them, and drivers were taking requests from people outside the village to make tips.
At the meeting, questions were raised whether the Suffolk Transportation was a sole source provider, and if it provides transportation services for Suffolk County.
According to its website, the company operates with Suffolk County public transit under the name Suffolk Bus Corp. The company also operates the paratransit buses, known as Suffolk County Accessible Transit, which ferry disabled people on select routes across the county.
The village board agreed to approve the funds for this spring semester if Wood could keep the budget for the jitney service under $20,000, which meant cutting the number of weeks and hours it ran for.
The program will come under review again come the start of the fall semester.
Wood said the university would not currently consider helping to pay for the program, but said he has plans for the future, including possibly surveying riders and asking where they shopped or dined.
“The program will gain popularity and ridership and, therefore, success,” he said. “We may test run a pay by cellphone so that students also have a contribution to this wonderful service. We would expect rates to be well below any alternative mobility.
Although officials have praised the program for bringing in more people sans cars into the village, Garant said she has questioned the cost of the program, especially since Port Jeff started to contract with an outside company. She said adding extra days and weeks to the program has only exacerbated those costs, and she doubts either the BID or university will either be able or willing to pick up the majority of the tab long term.
“Honestly, the program is in jeopardy in the fall,” she said.” The mayor added she has asked Wood to look into different transit companies or into the village purchasing its own two new jitney buses.
The new schedule is Thursdays from 3 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The bus stops at Student Activities Center Loop, Hilton Garden Inn, Chapin Apartments, Wild by Nature Market parking lot, Port Jefferson village on Arden Street and Port Jeff train station.