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Island transportation inadequate and no solutions on the horizon

A North Ferry boat. Once in Greenport, some Islanders have no further transportation.

You can’t get there from here.

At least that’s the way it seems for Shelter Islanders who don’t have private transportation to the North and South forks or New York City.

For 15 years, Councilwoman Chris Lewis has represented the Island on the East End Transportation Council (EETC) and seen little or no progress to help the twin forks, much less the Island.

What’s more, she’s predicting “no improvement for the foreseeable future” and transportation needs could get even worse. Private drivers who have been assisting Islanders with off-Island transportation are aging and not being replaced by younger community members, Ms. Lewis said.

There are no buses running across the Island. The only solution for someone with a vehicle or someone unable to drive because of a health condition is to connect with transportation privately or through the Island’s senior services.

A private, van service from Shelter Island for fee would help, Ms. Lewis said, but making it cost-effective is a challenge.

There’s been “a culture change” of late, she added, with more residents working off-Island and unavailable to help others who have limited transportation. But even if Islanders can get to the North or South forks, there’s no reliable public transportation to get to doctors’ appointments or, for example, shopping at Tanger in Riverhead, Ms. Lewis said.

A bus or train might be available one way, but someone dependent on getting back could have an eight hour wait, Ms. Lewis said. Jobs might be plentiful at off-Island schools and hospitals, but workers’ abilities to travel to them without a car is limited.

Leaving a recent meeting of the EETC, Ms. Lewis asked another member, “Why do I feel nothing has changed.”

Because nothing has, came the answer. Members representing East End communities talk about the needs they have and officials of public transportation systems explain why they can’t comply.

“You can have all the vision in the world,” Ms. Lewis said, but no one wants to pay what it would cost to provide a reliable East End public transportation service.

One way to assist Islanders would be a reliable connection between North Ferry and the Long Island Rail Road, Ms. Lewis said. Currently, the first boat from the Island leaves at 5:40 a.m. The first train leaves Greenport at 5:30 a.m. But, Ms. Lewis said, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) officials say the problem is one for North Ferry to solve. Even though East Enders pay taxes to support the MTA, they get nothing realistic in return, Ms. Lewis said.

Heights Property Owners Corporation General Manager Stella Lagudis said during the summer months on Mondays, a boat leaves the Island at 5:10 a.m. so those heading to the city can make the early train. Years ago, North Ferry offered an earlier boat on a regular basis but it was discontinued for lack of interest, she added.

If there was enough ridership to merit an earlier boat, North Ferry would certainly be willing to have that conversation, Ms. Lagudis said.

Hampton Jitney has bus transportation that would make weekday connections with the boat. But again, for those who, for example, need to see a doctor in Riverhead, there aren’t convenient connections during the day, Ms. Lewis said.