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Weekend minibus could boost business: Chamber pushing plan for this summer

Hop on, hop off at your leisure and enjoy your trip to Shelter Island without the hassle of driving your own vehicle — or searching for parking at each spot you want to visit at a time when the population tends to increase dramatically.

This is an idea the Island’s Chamber of Commerce is exploring by bringing a “Hamptons Hopper” 25-passenger minibus here for a pilot run this summer.

Passengers would not be charged to use the minibus that would also be available to those living on the Island, whether full- or part-timers. Such shuttles typically have operated in venues around the world, enabling people to hop on and off to spend as little or as much time at each stop as they please.

Chamber members Rob Strauss and Linda Eklund outlined the proposal to the Town Board at the May 16 work session, noting Hamptons Hopper has operated in Southampton and East Hampton siince 2013.

The Chamber of Commerce representatives are hoping the minibus would bring more visitors to the Island, resulting in business for shops and restaurants as well as to visit key sites here.

The aim is to start the weekend minibus on Saturday, June 24, and run it every Saturday and Sunday through Sept. 3. It would run from South Ferry starting at 11 a.m. each of the days with the last stop at 8 p.m. back at South Ferry.

For an hour each day, the driver would have a break, but otherwise the minibus would circle the Island with many regular stops throughout the day. The driver would also be able to pick up passengers between stops as long as pulling over is deemed safe.

Police Chief Jim Read told the Town Board he can work with the Chamber to assure safety measures are in place and make adjustments if needed.

Michael Guanci, who operates the Shelter Island Taxi Service, said he’s actively working with the Chamber of Commerce with respect to the Hamptons Hopper, and what exactly the minibus service entails. As for his business, he said the taxi service is “poised to have a massive summer this year. We have a fleet of four taxis, 14 passenger buses and larger shuttle and coach buses to service large events like weddings and reunions,” he said.

The Chamber of Commerce is sensitive to the existence of the Shelter Island Taxi and don’t see the minibus that would run on its own specific loop as competing with the taxi company that is used for transportation between specific points.

The Reporter also reached out to John Kaasik whose taxi service is “temporarily suspended,” according to a message on his answering machine.

He has not responded to several messages asking for comment. Outreach to an Uber service advertising service on Shelter Island has also gone without a response.

Stops for the Hampton Hopper are tentatively planned to loop throughout the day, going to Mashomack Preserve, Vine Street Café, Shelter Island Slice, the IGA Supermarket, Ram’s Head Inn, South Ram Island Drive at Club Drive, Sylvester Manor, the North Ferry terminal, the Chequit, West Neck Guest House, Sunset Beach Hotel, the Perlman Music Program, the Pridwin Hotel, Nostrand Parkway at Belvedere Avenue, Shelter Island House and Seven B&B, SALT, Wades Beach and back to South Ferry.

Those stops are subject to change as needed to coordinate with safety and traffic conditions. Weekly reports on what’s working and what’s not will determine  adjustments.

Those wanting to spend time at Island beaches wouldn’t have the problem of trying to find parking at Crescent or Wades beaches where most parking is used by residents with permits and the spots fill up rapidly.

There are issues to be resolved, the Chamber of Commerce representatives said.

They estimate it will cost $20,000 for the pilot project and will be looking for grants or other sources of money to cover the expense.

Another consideration is whether permitting or approval is needed from the town. It’s uncertain if a permit could be needed to operate since the company isn’t seeking a town-owned site as a base.

The Chamber is prepared to name the town as co-insured. They also agreed to a request from Heights Property Owners Corporation General Manager Stella Lagudis to cover that area as a co-insured entity. Ms. Lagudis also noted if the minibus is traveling along New York Avenue, it must meet weight limits on that roadway.

She noted the Chequit stop could be tricky since there would be no easy place to park the bus for people to get on and off.

Chamber members are also exploring a possible stop somewhere around Coecles Harbor, but don’t expect to add a Shell Beach stop.

Advertising of the service is another area being examined.