Traffic congestion on Long Island is anticipated to increase significantly over the next 25 years, wasting even more time and money while burning fossil fuels and contributing to climate change. JENNY NOBLE
Taking the Long Island Rail Road helps reduce CO2 emissions, unclogs the infamous Hamptons gridlock, and as regular Carley Wootton points out, “It’s fun peaking into backyard barbecues, tennis and golf clubs, vineyards and stables… a much better view than on the LIE.” CARLEY WOOTTON
Sag Harbor Traffic Control Officer Daniel Bitton and fellow colleagues are subject to a variety of expletives and have even had drivers threaten to take them to court over parking tickets. Daniel is 17 years old. JENNY NOBLE
Suffolk County's new Transit On-Demand mini-bus picks you up and takes you anywhere you want to go in Southampton and Sag Harbor. It’s a pilot program for now, but if everyone keeps using it, it could expand to East Hampton and beyond. MICHAEL IASALLI
This Fourth of July kicked off the official season of madness on the roads. People throwing their hazards into park-wherever-I-want mode. Expletives being hurled through closed windows. Road ragers speeding furiously past each other only to end up at the same red light anyway.
And then there’s road rage’s evil twin — parking rage; the condition one experiences while hunting down the elusive spot in town.
In 2018, the National Transportation Research Group (TRIP) found that the average Long Island commuter spends an additional 81 hours annually stuck in traffic due to congestion (and that was before the pandemic migration to the East End). That same commuter paid an annual $1,684 in wasted time and fuel sitting in traffic (and that was before the $5 gallon of gas). What they didn’t factor in was how, in that amount of time, I could have been training for a marathon, mastering a piano concerto or at least have caught the final 36 episodes of “The Wire.”
Where does all this madness get us? Longer delays in reducing fossil fuel emissions and fighting the climate crisis. According to the EPA, a typical passenger vehicle emits just over 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. This is more CO2 per passenger mile than any other form of ground transportation, nearly twice that of trains and three to four times what taking a bus produces. On top of that, internal combustion engines generate nitrogen oxides and particulate matter (aka smog) that have been shown to cause respiratory and cardiac disease and been linked to increased lung cancer and premature mortality.
Whether to help fight climate change, save money or avoid the nightmare of finding a parking place on a Friday night in downtown East Hampton, choosing public transportation benefits us all.
The MTA Long Island Railroad brochure quite accurately states, “No traffic, no aggravations, just a scenic ride to one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Enjoy the scenery when you don’t have to keep your eyes on the road.” I just feel like a little kid sitting on the upper deck, peeking down into back yard pool parties, watching golfers on a green, and passing stables, vineyards and beaches along the bay out toward Montauk.
The trip from Penn Station to Montauk takes just over three hours and costs $23 to $30. Driving that same distance would take 4 to 6 hours in summer traffic and even in a fuel efficient car, would cost about $72.
The LIRR is stepping up its game with plans to increase train capacity to and from New York by 50 percent, offering more reverse commute options. By the end of 2022, the little engine that could go straight to Penn Station, can drop you directly at their new terminal in Grand Central station.
In terms of fuel efficiency, taking the train instead of a car cuts CO2 emissions by up to 80 percent.
As one LIRR loyalist points out, “Even though the train is sometimes crowded, driving can take up to six hours sitting in stop and go traffic. And God forbid it’s a holiday when there’s an accident. Which there always is on a holiday.”
Public buses in the Hamptons can seem kind of like dolphins or shooting stars. They’re fun to watch going by once in a while, but you wouldn’t consider riding one. Despite the bad rap, I was surprised how pleasant it was taking the S92 to East Hampton to run errands. The adult fare is $2.25 and this route’s 60 mile loop runs all the way from the East Hampton train station to the Orient Point ferry and comes every 15 to 20 minutes during rush hour, but closer to every two hours off-peak.
One S92 perk is that you can request a stop almost anywhere along the route. “Just wave the bus down and we’ll pick you up,” says driver Carlos Cavezas. “An elderly lady takes it every day from right out in front of her driveway. We look out for the regulars.”
In terms of fuel efficiency, taking a bus instead of a car can cut CO2 emissions by up to 85 percent.
The other day at a luncheon, I met a blonde woman whose husband always takes their private jet to and from the Hamptons. She confesses that she prefers the Hampton Jitney. “Quite honestly, it’s the only time I get any uninterrupted privacy,” she says. While I haven’t felt obliged to hop on over to Dubai and buy a Matisse, I feel the same way about the Jitney. It’s a vacation from my life — uninterrupted reading, movie watching and just a good snooze.
Although Jitney riders can sometimes be a persnickety lot, this has a very silver lining. Usually nobody blabs on their phone or pushes and shoves to get a seat. The one time when I saw someone eat a fried fish sandwich? Well, let’s just say it was their last. Your bus may be stuck in the same traffic as common mortals, but the Jitney still gets to take the HOV lane 90 percent of the time.
Of all the ways to get around town, the new Transit On-Demand is my favorite. It’s like calling an Uber or a taxi. With only a tap of the app or phone call, this mini-bus will pick you up and take you wherever you want to go throughout Southampton and Sag Harbor.
The big difference is that you could go all the way from Shinnecock Hills to the Shelter Island South Ferry for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Full fare is $2.25, students pay $1.25, seniors 75 cents and children under five ride for free. That same trip via Uber on a Friday night would be $75.
One regular on the shuttle bus is Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming. She says it’s the easiest way to commute from her house in Noyac to work in Southampton. Another Noyac couple uses it to go to dinner at The American Hotel. “If you have a drink or two, it’s there at your fingertips,” they say.
“People who could take a car are seeing that this is a sensible way to get around,” adds Fleming.
Whether riding the Jitney at $30 a ticket or Transit On-Demand for a couple bucks, the cha ching factor of mass transit is significant. Gas prices have hit levels rarely seen in the last 50 years. According to a New York Times article, we’re all being subject to the whims of trading that takes place in a sprawling international market for oil and petroleum products. As of July 13, a gallon of mid-grade gas costs an average of $5.22 in the Hamptons, and industry analysts predict that the prices aren’t going to fall anytime soon.
Legislator Fleming talked to me about how taking public transportation helps fights climate change and reduces gridlock out east. She brought up the money it saves at the pump. But I think she also intuited something more than that. Something hard to put a finger on. As we hung up the phone, she mentioned a trip she’d taken on Amtrak from Charlottesville, Virginia to Washington, D.C. when she was in law school. She sat across from a man she didn’t recognize. He turned out to be the District Attorney for New York. And it turned out that he offered her her first job.
“It changed my life,” she said.
Long Island Railroad “TrainTime” App: Track your train on the map in real time, see which cars have more open seats and purchase tickets from your phone. No more waiting in line or dealing with vending machines when you’re running late.
SuffolkFastFare App: Download tickets, check bus, train and Fire Island Ferry schedules. Includes a link to local weather channel and much more.
Suffolk Transit On-Demand App: Book rides from your phone, get picked up in minutes anywhere in Southampton and Sag Harbor. Service hours: Weekdays 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Fare: $2.25 youth/students: $1.25, children under five: free, seniors, persons with disabilities, Medicare card holders and Suffolk County veterans: $0.75.
CarbonFund Calculator (carbonfund.org): Calculate how much CO2 you use driving, flying and traveling by train, then learn ways to offset it.
Pre-Tax Transit Benefit Program: If you have more than 20 employees, help them save up to 40 percent of their commuting costs. Conserve energy, reduce pollution and help decrease traffic congestion on Long Island. Great way to give potential hires an incentive to join your company.
One fine body…