A pilot program to bring trolley service to the North Fork will launch this fall on a limited basis, a working group of town and county officials and officers of the North Fork Promotion Council told the town board yesterday.
The pilot program will be implemented in two phases this fall. The first phase will be a trolley loop connecting Peconic and Greenport from Sept. 9 through Oct. 7.
“There are a lot of Greenport events during that timeline,” Said Denis Noncarrow, who first pitched the trolley pilot program to the town board in May.
The second phase of the pilot, from Oct. 15 through Nov. 11, will be a loop from Mattituck to Peconic.
The trolley service is aimed at relieving traffic congestion on the North Fork by encouraging people to use mass transit to come to the North Fork knowing there will be frequent trolley service allowing them to travel among points of interest in the region without a personal vehicle.
“We want to tell visitors ‘You’re welcome out here. Please come — but please leave your car home,’” Noncarrow said yesterday.
“I have spoken with the MTA and they are very supportive of this project,” August Ruckdeschel of the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development told the town board.
The Long Island Railroad is planning to add two weekend trains to and from Greenport seasonally, beginning next May, according to LIRR officials. It will add a fourth train on weekdays to the Greenport branch beginning this fall.
“I live in Ronkonkoma,” Ruckdeschel said, “and this is 100 percent something I’d be interested in doing. The train ride from Ronkonkoma to Mattituck and Greenport is gorgeous — it’s beautiful.”
The service will cost $5,000 per trolley, North Fork Promotion Council treasurer George Haase said. There will be two trolleys running in a loop, with a trolley arriving at each stop in 30-minute intervals. Each trolley carries 40 passengers. The trolley service will be provided by M & V Limos of Commack.
The cost of providing the service will be borne by fares — riders will purchase an all-day pass for $10 — private grant funding from the East End Tourism Alliance and the Long Island Wine Council, and the sale of advertising on the trolley vehicles.
The budget for this fall’s pilot is $4,200 short, Haase told town board members, who agreed to plug the gap with town funds.
The group has applied for a $200,000 state economic development grant to continue the pilot on an expanded basis next year, Ruckdeschel said.
Noncarrow stresses that the launch is a multi-year process.
“We are working out the technicalities, the stops, the timing,” he said.
It’s important to get people to use it this fall so that data can be collected and the service fine-tuned.
A portion of the program budget is dedicated to promotion and marketing. North Fork Promotion Council president Duncan Kennedy said there is a “heavy, heavy, heavy social media campaign” planned, including Instagram, videos and email blasts.
“We have hashtags ready to go,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully something goes viral.”
The new service will also be advertised in print ads targeting the Nassau County market, Kennedy said.
Local businesses will also be offered the opportunity to advertise on the sides of the trolley vehicles “for a nominal cost,” Kennedy said.
The group is working on the development of a smart phone app that will include a map showing where the next trolley is and how long it will take to arrive at a given stop.
“Dependability is paramount,” Ruckdeschel said. “Riders want to know when that next trolley is arriving. That’s why we’re insisting on app development. Being able to look at a map and knowing when the trolley will arrive is invaluable.”
Councilman William Ruland said he’s been a proponent of a trolley service.
“It’s not the fix-all for traffic but it can foster tourism without the expense of having more cars,” Ruland said.
For it to work, he said people need to see the ease of the experience. “It’s on a timetable. It’s dependable,” Ruland said. You let people know they’re not going to get stranded so they have the comfort of knowing they’re traveling in a system that gets them where they want to go,” he said.
Two volunteer “ambassadors” will ride each trolley, Ruckdeschel said. They will function as informal tour guides. “It will create value for the riders,” he said, providing something more than just a ride from place to place.
“We want to create an experience.”
Correction: The launch date was misstated in the original version of this article. It is Saturday, Sept. 9.