Sag Harbor's village board has cracked open the door to creating the first new ferry service in Suffolk County in decades -- a water taxi that would run between the South Fork village and Greenport on the North Fork.
Village officials in Greenport Friday night are expected to discuss giving their approval to the project as well. The Suffolk Legislature -- which would have to approve the route and set the fares -- is already reviewing an application for the service.
"We've got to have a hearing on the county level, but it's on track [to open] by Memorial Day," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who has an office in Sag Harbor. "It will be a very scenic ride . . . I plan on using it."
A similar plan to run a ferry service between Greenport and Sag Harbor was rejected by Sag Harbor officials a year ago because of fears it would increase the village's summer parking problem and result in people filling village parking lots but not staying to shop.
The new plan partners the water taxi service with the Hampton Jitney, which would run a shuttle bus between Bridgehampton and East Hampton, then loop up to Sag Harbor. A bus already stops at Greenport's transit hub, near the Shelter Island North Ferry terminal and the village's Long Island Rail Road station.
"We didn't have the Jitney last year," said Jim Ryan of Response Marine, who is co-sponsoring the water taxi application along with Geoffrey Lynch of Hampton Jitney. Both men spoke to the Sag Harbor village board Tuesday night, and said the bus shuttle could also be a step toward the long-proposed development of a rural transit network for the East End. If the project is successful, they said, the shuttle could be expanded to include stops at Montauk or Orient, or communities to the west.
The proposed new ferry service -- expected to run for 10 weeks, starting around Memorial Day -- would use a leased 54-seat ferryboat that would take about 20 minutes in each direction. No fare was proposed, but informal discussions are for a round-trip cost of about $20.
The shuttle would feature 14 daily bus loops along the South Fork, with the Jitney using buses of various sizes, depending on the number of patrons.
"They would all be smaller than our regular Jitney," Lynch said.
There was general support at the village board meeting for the trial project, but some residents complained it would bring additional traffic to Sag Harbor. Others said the village should receive fees for allowing its dock to be used by the ferry. Lynch said that likely would be the case if the program becomes permanent.
Mayor Brian Gilbride, who supported the trial program, said, "The good thing about a pilot program is that we will see if there are things we want, and things we don't want."
The village board Tuesday night authorized its attorney to draft a local law that would permit the ferry service on a trial basis, and to have it advertised for a public hearing, possibly as soon as next month.