Earlier this spring, the management of the Hampton Jitney that provides the luxury ride between the Hamptons and New York City proposed adding a summertime ferry operation between Sag Harbor and Greenport to their services. They showed off photographs of a festively painted 35-foot launch that would, if approved, go back and forth between these two towns carrying up to 53 passengers per trip. The trips would be at two-hour intervals. The invigorating sail across the bay, just for people, not cars, would take 45 minutes and cost $37 round trip for adults.
There are many reasons why this operation, called the Peconic Jitney, would be a wonderful thing. First and foremost is that taking it would be a fun adventure. Second, both Sag Harbor and Greenport are waterfront tourist towns that attract many visitors every day all summer long. Using the water Jitney, people in one town could visit the other town, have lunch and go shopping on foot, and then return to home base later in the day. Third, it would be a shortcut. The way to go today between the two towns requires crossing Shelter Island by car after waiting in line for two ferries to go on and off that island (cost $48). Fourth, this would save on gasoline and also save Shelter Islanders from enduring some of the endless line of cars only passing through without stopping to go from one place to the other.
In April, the Suffolk County Legislature approved the license for the Hampton Jitney to operate the Peconic Jitney. The Village of Sag Harbor voted on May 10 to allow passenger ferries to arrive and depart from historic Long Wharf in the very center of the village. The village is expected vote on whether to grant Peconic Jitney its permit at its June 14 meeting.
Additional approvals are required from Greenport. The Jitney asked to come and go from the Mitchell Park Marina, the centerpiece of Greenport where the beautiful historic carousel offers merry-go-round rides all summer long.
But Greenport, after discussing it at several meetings, said no to the landing site at the park. They proposed other landings. One was a long way from downtown. The other had a dock that wasn’t steady enough to handle a landing — but which the village said they could fix up. The Jitney rejected these offers, for obvious reasons, and the village has neither voted on the proposal nor scheduled it for a vote.
Why was Mitchell Park not appropriate? At first I thought maybe Greenport didn’t want more pedestrians to discover Mitchell Park. But that didn’t make sense. And this would be, at most, 53 people a trip.
Then I thought maybe the Greenporters were worried that a water taxi run by a bus company would be a danger to other boaters. But that didn’t make sense either. The Jitney offers a wide variety of services. There’s the Jitney to Stratton in ski country in winter. There’s a North Fork Trolley Polar Express in December. There are trips to Florida and back. There are charter services for big events, including trips to New York City to watch the opera, Broadway shows, and sporting events. And the family who owns the Jitney are boat people. For generations they’ve owned the Port Jefferson-Bridgeport ferry service. Another part of the family is in the tugboat business in the Port of New York.
Eventually, I called the Village of Greenport and spoke to Sylvia Pirillo, the Greenport village clerk, and Paul Pallas, the village administrator there.
Everything was fine, I was told, except the Mitchell Park landing spot had too many boats coming in and out already. Sometimes boats had to wait their turn coming in and out. Sometimes there were five or six in a line. Causing this were the big yachts tied up at Mitchell Park. When they backed out to leave or came in to dock, they blocked one of the two lanes, so things got crowded.
I don’t believe that anybody counts the number of ships that come in and out go out of Greenport, but I would imagine there might be 200 or so each day. Come on. Adding one more boat every two hours would break the camel’s back? Both of these towns have welcomed commercial fishing boats, yachts, sailboats and freighters since the 1700s. One is a harbor, the other a port.
Years before Greenport was called Greenport, it was known as Stirling. I could understand Stirling rejecting shipping. But GreenPORT? And hundreds of boats are welcome, but not this one?
Greenport should be proud to have the Peconic Jitney.