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Shuttle

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Stony Brook’s SAC bus loop is one of the stops of the SBU to Port Jeff shuttle. Village officials say the cost of the project has put it in jeopardy after the end of the spring semester. Photo from Google maps

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 Port Jefferson, Stony Brook University Shuttle before the service was contracted out to Suffolk Transportation Inc.. Photo from Kevin Wood

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.

The Port Jefferson, Stony Brook University Shuttle. Photo from Kevin Wood

After calling the first trial run a success, The Village of Port Jefferson will again be using its jitney bus for transport between the village and Stony Brook University when classes begin again Sept. 5.

Village Parking and Mobility Administrator Kevin Wood said people can expect the same service as last season, which started as a pilot program on March 7. The new season will last until at least Nov. 10, though depending on ridership it could run longer.

Daily schedules will remain the same, though the last pickup will be at 10 p.m. from SBU. The schedule is anticipated to be Thursdays from 3 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The original pilot program cost the village around approximately $13,000, with the university picking up promotional costs.

Wood said in an email the spring season showed 3,200 riders in the two-and-a-half-month spring pilot, but he expects more riders for this term. He also said the village is looking at supplying a second shuttle.

The loop starts at Port Jefferson train station along Main Street in what’s known as Upper Port, before heading into Arden Plaza in the village, continuing up West Broadway down Route 25A, stopping at Stop & Shop in East Setauket. Once on the Stony Brook campus, it will make stops at the main circle loop, West Campus and the Chapin Apartments before coming back down Route 25A and ending at Port Jeff train station. 

The jitney ride is free for Stony Brook University students and faculty.

Representatives from Qwik Ride, Port Jefferson Village and the Port Jefferson BID announce the kick off of Qwik Ride in the village during a press event Nov. 5. Photo by Alex Petroski

Business owners and elected officials in Port Jefferson Village are confident they’ve finally found the antidote to the business district’s most talked about problem.

In an effort to open up parking for more visitors, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District has partnered with Qwik Ride, a company that uses 100 percent electric vehicles summoned by a mobile phone application to alleviate parking constraints in downtown areas.

“We have tried a lot of different things,” Mayor Margot Garant said. “I think it’s fun, it’s mobile, it’s free — it solves all of our issues. It can help an employee park out of the village and open up a spot. It can bring a resident downtown and keep that spot open for somebody else. And I think they’re innovative and they’re flexible, and I think when you have a dynamic problem you need a dynamic solution.”

The service is offered free of charge to riders thanks to a sponsorship contract between the BID and Qwik Ride. One of the two cars allotted to Port Jeff Village is sponsored by the BID as a whole, while the second is sponsored by Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and BID president individually.

“Parking is widely perceived as the major contributing factor to the demise of foot traffic in this village and the ultimate failure of so many businesses, so having an option to try to get around the parking problem by having people picked up and not having to bring their cars down into the village is an obvious benefit,” Schafer said. “They look fun to ride in too, so hopefully it’ll spur people on. The fact that it’s no charge, I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be a huge success.”

The contracts are for 20 months, with services being available beginning this Saturday, Nov. 10 from noon to midnight. Initially the cars will be running Thursdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight and 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Qwik Ride owner Dan Cantelmo said the company hopes to eventually have up to five cars sponsored in Port Jeff and service available seven days a week, though expansion will be based on demand.

Once operational, the service will pick up Port Jefferson residents in the 11777, and those traveling to the area from outside of the village are instructed to park in the CVS parking lot on Main Street near Earl L. Vandermeulen High School to summon the cars from there for transport downtown. The company has rolled out cars in Patchogue, Northport and Huntington villages earlier this year with great success, according to Cantelmo.

“All have a similar concept — trying to ease the parking and encourage people to park further away so that we can bring them into the town,” he said.

While the service is only planned to operate Thursday through Sunday in PJV at first, special events like the Charles Dickens Festival and popular nights out like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be covered as well.

The cars will be kept in the parking lot behind Village Hall when not in service, but the village has no other stake in the agreement, other than offering its support, according to Garant. During the summers of 2017 and 2018, the BID partnered with a valet parking company to offer a municipal parking service, an agreement that required village permission to use certain parking lots, though failed to garner enough usage to remain viable.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Roger Rutherford, general manager of The Port Jefferson Frigate. “ I think it’s going to mean more customers for us.”

The Port Jefferson jitney stops on Arden Place near Mariners Way. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The village jitney is up and running again, shuttling residents and visitors through Port Jefferson on summer weekends. But in its third year, village officials may take things up a notch.

At a village board of trustees meeting last Monday, Trustee Larry LaPointe announced they had received a $12,600 grant from Suffolk County to build three small shelters for people waiting to hop on the jitney.

It is a matching grant, so the village will have to kick in as much money as it accepts from the county. That may be slightly lower than the total available, as the trustees approved a proposal from Freeport-based Columbia Equipment Company to build the three red shelters for $19,500 — meaning each municipality would kick in just shy of $10,000.

LaPointe described the shelters as aluminum squares measuring 5 feet by 7 feet — the ridership numbers don’t justify building big shelters, he said — without benches inside.

“Benches attract people who want to take a nap,” he said.

Port Jefferson officials often contend with loitering vagrants or drunken people. There are frequently homeless people sleeping on the few benches around the area.

While the village could choose to put in benches down the road, LaPointe noted that because the shelters are small, leaving out a bench would improve access to the shelters for people in wheelchairs.

The shelters would be installed at the three points along the jitney route: at its start uptown on the east side of Oakland Avenue, near the Long Island Rail Road station; on the north side of Arden Place close to East Main Street; and at the harborfront park off East Broadway.

Those shelters are going to be red so they match the color of the shuttle bus.

“The shelters will really brand it — red jitney, red shelter,” LaPointe said.

The bus service, which resumed on Memorial Day, will keep trucking until Labor Day. Fare is $2, but children under 12 can ride for free.

When the jitney first started running in summer 2014, the village board saw the shuttle as a way to connect the vibrant downtown and the struggling uptown areas.

“It’s a good way to start bridging the gap between upper and lower Port,” Mayor Margot Garant said at the time. “We’ve got to get people circulating back up and down.”

Port Jefferson Village parking committee chairman George Westbay had originally presented the concept as a year-round service to link uptown and downtown, given the village’s push to revitalize the upper Port area and with a new apartment complex going up on Texaco Avenue to bring in more residents. He also saw it being used by visitors who could take the LIRR to Port Jefferson and then use the bus to go to a waterfront festival, for instance, instead of using a car.