Enjoying a summer weekend on the North Fork without driving into a traffic nightmare may have gotten a little easier with the Saturday launch of a free shuttle service.
The North Fork Link, a hop-on, hop-off shuttle service operated by The North Fork Promotion Council, runs through Aug. 25 and will take riders to and from restaurants, vineyards and other local tourist attractions across Riverhead and Greenport from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Saturday for the next seven weeks.
Rachel Friedman, 23, of East Meadow, and Joseph Goodman, 26, of Mineola,said they heard about the service through a visit to Palmer Vineyards in Riverhead. Both are frequent visitors to the area, and Goodman said the hardest part of enjoying a North Fork weekend was the commute, which took him more than an hour Saturday to get from his Mineola home to Riverhead.
"You want to be able just to sit back, relax, not drive anymore," Goodman said, enjoying a beverage on the shuttle heading to Greenport.
Friedman concurred. "It's really nice to sit back and let someone else do the driving, so we don't have to worry about it," she said.
Riders can also access real-time information and location updates by downloading the "North Fork Now" app. More information is on NorthForkNow.org/nofolink.
With the North Fork becoming more popular as a tourist destination the past few years, traffic has steadily increased during the summer and fall, jamming up roads and making it difficult for either residents or visitors to get around.
“It’s a great place to come and visit, but over-tourism is a real thing here, it’s a real challenge,” said Jamie Claudio, vice president of marketing and sales for tourism promotion agency Discover Long Island. Services such as the new shuttle were key in helping to attract tourists to the area without disrupting the way of life for residents, Claudio added.
The service was funded by a $112,500 Market New York grant program the council applied for under Empire State Development. The service fleet consists of six luxury vans that carry up to 16 passengers to and from 30 North Fork stops.
Alane Kelly, a board member with the council, said the council expected ridership to increase over the next few weeks during the soft launch, and officials would consider 100 riders using the service every weekend a successful start. If successful, Kelly said, more stops and extending the service into the fall would be considered.
Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, a longtime North Fork resident, said after 11 a.m. on a typical weekend, commuting could be "a little crazy" with bumper-to-bumper traffic, and the new service, if successful, could be "a piece of the puzzle" to solving local traffic issues.