After the North Fork Link suddenly halted service weeks after launching in July, its operators are planning a comeback of sorts to coincide with Winterfest, which kicks off Feb. 22.
This time, however, there will be no shuttle to transport riders from points of interest between Riverhead and Greenport. Instead, the North Fork Promotion Council is exploring a partnership with the popular ride-sharing app Lyft to offer free subsidized rides to Nork Fork locales during the off-season.
“This is the time of year when we all would like a push,” said Duncan Kennedy, president of the North Fork Promotion Council. “We thought we would concentrate around new periods, which is our biggest goal: to promote our region in the off-season when we really need it. Everybody needs help on winter weekends and midweek during the season.”
The idea would encourage people to take rides safely from local lodging to Winterfest events, he said. Mr. Kennedy owns the Duncan Inn in Jamesport.
Using Lyft, riders would register with the app and receive an electronic voucher they could redeem for a free ride. The ride-hailing service would ‘geofence’ the promotion, Mr. Kennedy assured, “so you can’t then get a ride to Manhattan for free.”
With the North Fork Link, riders could download the North Fork Now app for real-time updates on pickup times and locations. But using Lyft meets people where they are, Mr. Kennedy said.
“Using Lyft is second nature now for a lot of people. It fits in with the lifestyle. It’s something they’re already doing,” he said.
Plus, it provides an opportunity for local drivers to make some extra cash.
“Hopefully we’ll see an uptick in local drivers who know the area and will benefit from this,” he said.
If successful, he said they would continue to explore ways to use the promotion throughout the year to bolster tourism when needed.
The nonprofit tourism organization was awarded a $112,500 grant from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council to operate the trolley service last year. It launched the North Fork Link as a free, luxury transportation service July 7 and was set to run on eight Saturdays through Aug. 25.
Three weeks later, a message posted to its website warned of a temporary shutdown “while we address some issues that impact overall rider experience.”
At the time, Mr. Kennedy said they were “taking a pause,” since “current service levels are not where we want them to be.”
M&V Limousines of Southampton had been providing vehicles and drivers for the free service.
Mr. Kennedy declined to go into further detail on the arrangement.
“We did end it a little but abruptly,” he acknowledged. “We didn’t restart [right away,] because we were hitting the fall and we didn’t want to introduce more traffic, which would just contribute to more issues.”
He estimated that they spent around $5,000 to launch the North Fork Link. The remaining funds will be put toward subsidizing Lyft rides, Mr. Kennedy said. He worked with the state Regional Economic Development Council, the agency who awarded the grant, to shift the focus of his award. Empire State Development communications director Kristin Devoe noted that since the grant was under the umbrella of transportation, state officials were open to the change in method.
“The grant was for transportation to promote tourism in the North Fork area, so it remains true to the scope of the grant proposal,” Ms. Devoe said in an interview last week.
“The Link hit the right spot for some people, and for some it didn’t,” Mr. Kennedy said. “The focus was always transportation. We’re just changing how we do the transportation.”
For up-to-date information on the promotional Lyft offer, visit northforknow.org.