Business

Ferry plan floated for Greenport to Sag Harbor

Hampton Jitney has taken steps to reintroduce passenger ferry service between Greenport and Sag Harbor. 

At a Greenport Village Board work session last week, company president Geoff Lynch told trustees the company is interested in reviving the idea for its subsidiary, Peconic Jitney, which ran on a pilot basis during the summer of 2012.

“Our objective on this proposed passenger ferry is to directly connect these two villages and potentially reduce traffic congestion on local roadways, not further tax the limited parking in both villages, and increase foot traffic and tourism to both these towns in a sustainable manner,” he said.

Peconic Jitney is requesting a five-year franchise license from Suffolk County, with hopes to restart ferry services in 2022. The plan is to establish landing sites on municipal property in both villages, pending local authorization. The ferry route would operate seasonally, at least initially, with routes running around either the western or eastern shoreline of Shelter Island, depending on sea and weather conditions.

Services would start around Memorial Day weekend and end around Columbus Day weekend. Mr. Lynch said the ferry would operate only on weekends at the beginning and end of the season, with a seven-day scheduled service during July and August. 

General Manager Stella Lagudis of the Heights Property Owners Corporation, which owns North Ferry, told the Reporter that “we have always had a good working relationship with the Hampton Jitney. There are some logistics they appear to still need to address, and we look forward to providing a complementary service assuming they obtain the requisite approvals.”

Cliff Clark, president of South Ferry said that “it sounds like a good idea. South Ferry made a probe into doing this very thing about 15 years ago, but decided against it. If anyone can make it work, Geoff Lynch and Hampton Jitney will. They have a long history of providing excellent bus service to and from the East End. They will figure it out. It has the potential to combine a viable commuter service for workers while offering an attractive seasonal tourist event for our visitors.” 

Mr. Clark added that he wished Peconic good luck with the venture.

“Peconic Jitney intends to build upon the lessons learned from the 2012 pilot program to provide this service,” Mr. Lynch said, adding that the program is based on recommendations from a 2005 study that suggested water transportation on Peconic Bay would help infrastructure accommodate a growing population in the area.

He pointed out that the volume of tourists and residents has “surged quite a bit over the past decade,” creating a larger customer base than in 2012, when the ferry program only served 123 passengers over the course of a 100-day pilot.  

Mr. Lynch said a vendor partnership with waterfront restaurant Claudio’s “has enabled us to come in and look at [the ferry service] long term.” Claudio’s would sell concessions on the ferry, and if Mitchell Marina was deemed unsuitable for the service, the restaurant has offered to provide Crabby Jerry’s pier as an alternative, according to Mr. Lynch.

Peconic Jitney would use the same vessel it used 10 years ago, which “became available this year” from New York Cruise Lines. The vessel was fully refurbished a little more than a year ago, making it “essentially like new,” according to Mr. Lynch. 

Mr. Lynch said he’s met informally with the Sag Harbor mayor, who seemed to favor the initiative. 

Greenport trustee Julia Robins expressed concern about parking, pointing out that the village is already dealing with “a pretty tight parking situation.”

“That would be probably my greatest concern. Where are people going to park?” she said.

Mr. Lynch responded that the company was able to lease the parking lots at Greenport and Sag Harbor school districts in 2012. 

“It was a lot of money for the lease agreements and [the program was] really underutilized. I do understand the concern, I don’t know if it’s necessary to enter into that type of agreement again,” he said, adding the company has discussed the potential for a similar partnership with Claudio’s during the peak summer months and that Hampton Jitney can operate a shuttle service if necessary. 

Ms. Robins asked if the program might pose a risk to the safety of children in the village, which Mr. Lynch said wasn’t an issue in 2012. He suggested the ferry service would not cause a significant increase in traffic. 

“I don’t know how much we’d actually increase the volume of cars that were coming into the village. I do know that people coming from Sag Harbor to this village are not bringing their cars and so there is that offset there,” he said. 

Greenport trustee Mary Bess Phillips asked to see a detailed business plan for the service that includes lease amount, potential benefits for the village and what services would be required from the village. 

“This is still really in the initial stages. We started talking about this prior to COVID and we’ve actually put some money into some boat designs and really, this became what we thought would be a more feasible service when Claudio’s actually approached us about reintroducing this,” Mr. Lynch replied, acknowledging that there’s a possibility the marina could be too crowded for the ferry service. 

He said the 50-foot boat would use the marina for about 15 minutes, seven times a day so it shouldn’t be too impactful. The marina provides some wind cover and more open space for people to gather, making Mitchell Park — from a liability standpoint — a more practical option for the company, Mr. Lynch said.

“My main purpose is to see what the appetite is,” he added. 

Trustee Peter Clarke seemed to favor the idea, saying he’d love to see more water travel over the East End. Mayor George Hubbard requested to see a detailed business plan before coming to a decision.