Port Jefferson has a new idea to bring Stony Brook University students and their business downtown — give them a free ride.
The Port Jefferson Parking and Mobility Department and the Stony Brook University Office of Community Relations have partnered to offer a shuttle that provides a continuous service loop between the village and the college campus, which are about five miles apart.
“I would get asked every few months to find a way to get [Stony Brook University] into the [Port Jefferson] community,” Joan Dickinson, the college's community relations director, said.
The pilot program was initiated by Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant, who reached out to Dickinson about repurposing a jitney that runs between Port Jefferson’s Long Island Rail Road station and the village in the summer. The village, which started using the jitney in 2014, will fund the shuttle from the university during the off-season.
"We think it's a great opportunity for students and faculty, of course," Garant said. "We view Stony Brook as an economic partner, especially through the soft months."
The shuttle, which launched on March 7, includes stops at the Stop & Shop store on Route 25A, Arden Place and the LIRR station. Stops at the Stony Brook campus will include the Student Activities Center Loop, the Chemistry Loop, and the Chapin Apartments bus stop. The shuttle will run from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
"I absolutely think this is something students will use," said Andrew Machkasov, a Stony Brook senior who took an inaugural ride. "Judging by just talking to friends, this is something that they will take advantage of, and I haven't seen anyone who was strictly opposed to it."
Lauren Sheprow, the university media relations oficer, said the first weekend of service was a success. The launch target was 80 pickups, and the shuttle made 245 pickups from March 7 to 10, she said.
Downtown business owners say the shuttle offers a way to boost foot traffic without taking up parking spaces.
"Everybody is on the same page where there is a negative image attached to Port Jefferson and parking; we’re really trying to make changes in that by providing new ways to park and get into the village," said Joseph Ciardullo, the owner of the C’est Cheese restaurant.
The Port Jefferson Business Improvement District in November partnered with transportation company Qwik Rides to offer a free ride service that works similarly to Uber and Lyft to try to alleviate parking congestion. Patrons can park in more remote locations in Port Jefferson and order a ride downtown through the Qwik Rides app.
The university shuttle will run until May 23, and will return for the fall semester if the program is successful, Dickinson said. Signs will mark all of the bus stops, and students show their IDs when they board the bus.