Way out on the far East End of the South Fork, a young entrepreneur is hoping to reshape the face of alternative transportation with the help of technology and a fleet of revamped school buses.
Derek Kleinow, who grew up in the Hamptons, always wondered why there was no convenient local bus service on the South Fork.
A Princeton and Wharton School graduate and long-time entrepreneur who founded a successful internet GPS retail business, he’s now turning his tech savvy to a familiar problem on the East End: the impossible-to-predict nature of Hamptons traffic.
On the weekend of June 20, the first in his proposed fleet of air-conditioned, pistachio green school buses hit the highway from East Hampton to Montauk, stopping at several destinations along the way. These Hampton Hopper buses have no schedules or timetables, but instead serve riders through an iPhone app that shows them where the bus is at any given time.
An Android app will soon be released, and the location of the bus can also be found at www.hamptonhopper.com.
“I’ve been here 30 years, and we’ve all seen the traffic gets worse and worse every year,” he said this week. “I never felt there was a really good transportation solution for getting around the Hamptons once you’re out here. We’re looking to give people a convenient, affordable way to get around the Hamptons.”
“Traffic conditions out here are highly variable,” he added, “and the app is a more convenient way for people to see where the bus is.”
Right now, the company is running one 27-person bus on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturdays from noon to 2 a.m. and Sundays from noon to 10 p.m., and Mr. Kleinow is planing to begin running a second bus between East Hampton and Sag Harbor later this month.
Hampton Hopper is run like a social club — riders can purchase daily, weekend, monthly and season-long memberships to the club for between $12 and $200, and are able to ride their first time for free when they download the app.
Mr. Kleinow, who brought his company’s proposal to both the East Hampton and Southampton town boards over the past few months, said he’s hoping the concept of a social club will encourage riders to build friendships and get to know one another.
He said he’s also been speaking with taxi drivers about potential business conflict, but he’d been told that cab drivers prefer to take shorter trips than to travel between towns, as Hampton Hopper is doing.
He said he’s also looking into putting bike racks on the buses and looking into alternatives to the diesel fuel that currently powers the buses.
His idea was met with particularly strong support in Southampton, where board member Stan Glinka said at a meeting two months ago that he’s seen similar bus services that worked in other resort areas on the Eastern Seaboard. He urged Mr. Kleinow to consider service to Hampton Bays and Westhampton as well.
Southampton Public Transportation Director Tom Neely also threw his support behind the Hampton Hopper.
“Derek has some great intentions here, and he’s done some groundwork on it,” he told the town board in May. “We went over the permits. The town does not really get involved unless it falls under the category of a taxi. Scheduled route service probably wouldn’t fall under that. It’s an interesting idea. I wish him luck. Transportation is a tough business, but this could serve a real public need.”
“It’s going very well. People are definitely becoming aware of what we’re doing,” said Mr. Kleinow this week. “We’re starting off with the East Hampton to Montauk corridor because we want to be able to offer good, reliable service in that area. Our goal is to expand across all the Hamptons.”
Mr. Kleinow said he hopes to have the buses running seven days a week by August.
“This is an idea I’ve been talking about with friends and family for almost 10 years,” he said. “I kept thinking someone would probably do this, but it hasn’t been done. I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, and I decided I was going to go ahead and give it a shot.”