Memorial Day might be the unofficial start of summer, but the end of June marks a distinct shift in the city. With temperatures climbing, school finally out, and July 4th a week away, New Yorkers are ready to beat the heat by heading east. For many, that means booking a seat on Hampton Jitney, where they can enjoy the Long Island Expressway in style.
Since 1974, Hampton Jitney has been a pioneer in Manhattan-to-East-End transportation. What began with one van has blossomed into a major transportation operation, and the company relies heavily on its experienced employees like Patty Dolan to keep service running smoothly. Patty has worked at Hampton Jitney for 16 years. She has held various positions, and in her own words, has done everything but drive and fix the buses. Today, Patty serves as both a reservations manager and dispatcher, which has turned her into a multitasking problem solver extraordinaire.
In time for Hampton Jitney’s peak season, we spoke with Patty to find out how she helps keep the wheels turning, as well as to pick up a few travel tips.
A vintage Hampton Jitney, via Dan’s Papers
You started working at Hampton Jitney in 1999. What are the various position you’ve held?
Patty: Originally I worked here during the summer of ’96 when I was in college. After college, I moved out to Southampton and was looking for a job, and they surprisingly took me back. And that was it. I was an attendant on the bus at first, which is kind of like a flight attendant. We passed out chips and pretzels and collected the fares. I started doing some office work with reservations, answering calls that came in, and then that slowly morphed into a manager role. Later, I took over dispatch, which is the day-to-day operations. With dispatch, I like the hustle and bustle of everything. It’s like a giant chess game, moving things around and making sure everything works. I make sure everything runs on time, people show up, and everything gets covered. I also handle bus breakdowns, employee issues, customer issues, scheduling, training, interviewing, and hiring people.
With your current combination working as a dispatcher and a reservations manager, how busy does an average day get?
Patty: It gets crazy sometimes. Depending on my schedule, I can be at work at 4:30 a.m. and am here until 10-11:00 p.m. sometimes. Some days are nice and quiet and there are no problems, but some days as soon as you walk in it’s a domino effect. A bus breaks down or someone calls out, and it just sets a whole myriad of problems into motion. You are constantly calling people, trying to cover shifts. If a bus breaks down and you have 50 people stranded, you have to reroute everything. Even when things are already full, you somehow have to make it work. It’s tricky and tense at times, but day-to-day it’s a little bit of everything.
Patty at work in the Jitney office, via Cavan Photography
Even though we live in an digital era, Hampton Jitney still relies heavily on phones. Does the volume of calls increase as the weekend approaches?
Patty: We do have a website for reservations, but all in-house reservations are made over the phone. Sometimes we’ll have 7,000 reservations on a Friday or a Sunday. On peak days –Friday, Saturday, Sunday–we have reservationists working from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. Even last minute, people call and say, “Can I leave in an hour?” I say, “Well, we have been full since yesterday.”
What is the most interesting question from customers?
Patty: One we always get is when people are visiting for the summer. They call and say they want to see the Hamptons. They think that as soon as they get off the bus, they’re in the center of everything. They don’t understand that it’s not just a small, little area. It’s a huge area that encompasses 15 different towns. Then I have to explain to them that’s not really how it is out here.
Patty Dolan in an ad for Hamptons Magazine, via Hampton Jitney
Over the last 16 years, how has Hampton Jitney grown?
Patty: It’s grown tremendously. When I first started ’96, it was just a seasonal position, and they would hire a bunch of kids to work the buses for the summer. Then they would actually thank us and say they didn’t need help during the winter. Now, it’s huge. We are everywhere these days.
We’ve included the Ambassador Coach, which is our first-class service and immensely popular. It holds half as many passengers, 30 people. It has a double row on the driver’s side and a single row on the passenger side. There’s a lot more arm and leg room. They serve upgraded snacks on the bus. In the afternoon, we have wine service from local vineyards. They show movies. They have coffee and tea. It’s only $15 more than the Jitney.
A few years ago, we acquired Sunrise Coach Lines, which encompasses the entire North Fork of Long Island. We added service to Boston and Foxwoods. We are working with bringing people from New Jersey, Manhattan and Bridgeport, CT from the ferries in Port Jefferson. We have our Florida service from September to June. We bring all the snow birds down for the winter.
While the company has been growing, how have the Hamptons been changing?
Patty: It’s more of an older crowd. When I moved out here, we always had a place to go. Basically it was clubs, bars and places like that. Over the years, there has definitely been a shift. They have closed many of the clubs down. We don’t have the younger group coming out. It’s definitely older and family oriented with upscale restaurants as opposed to the nightclub scene.
What is the current customer demographic?
Patty: It’s more of the same people returning year after year these days. We have a few very loyal customers that I’ve known over the years. When I get them on the phone, we will talk for 20 minutes. When I got married a couple of years ago, my husband and I actually invited a few of them to our wedding.
A line for the Jitney at the stop on 60th Street and Lexington Avenue, via Bridge and Tunnel Club
During peak season, how many days in advance should a spot be booked?
Patty: If you are looking for the Ambassador coach, we take reservations 21 days in advance. The loyal riders will book three weeks in advance. For the regular Jitney, as long as you book a day in advance, that’s usually not a problem as long as it’s not a holiday weekend. For instance, on the Wednesday before Memorial day this year, we were 99% full for Friday.
Do you have any recommendations for the best times to head east?
Patty: You want to avoid the peak traffic times. If you go early in the morning or late at night it’s better than leaving Manhattan midday. An average ride to Southampton during the off season is about two hours. If you leave at 2:00 p.m. on a Friday during the summer, you’re probably looking at closer to four hours. We do our best to get around traffic, but there are some days where nothing will work because everyone is trying to get out.
What is the most popular pick up spot and time in Manhattan?
Patty: Well we have four pickups in the city. 86th street between 3rd and Lexington is a busy stop, but 40th street, our last Manhattan pickup, is our busiest stop. I’m actually there on Fridays and Saturdays coordinating the departures, making sure the right people get on the right buses. Sometimes we will have 200 people getting on at that stop on five different buses. It’s tricky.
A big one is the 9:00 a.m. on Friday. That’s a really popular one when a lot of nannies and housekeepers come out. The 2:00 p.m. is another big one. Saturday is pretty busy all day in both directions, including the afternoon because people go to take the train not realizing there is no train between 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., and then they all migrate over to 40th street to try and get out east. Sometimes we will have 20 people without reservations trying to get on the bus. A lot of times, we can accommodate them. Sundays depend on the weather. If it’s nice out, people will stay. 8:45 p.m. is probably our most popular from Southampton. If it’s raining, everyone tries to get out by 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. We will try and get drivers to come in early and switch things around.
The new Calverton facility, via Geoff Lynch, president of Hampton Jitney
Has Hampton Jitney added any new amenities this summer?
Patty: We did open up our Calverton facility, which has been in the works for about ten years. It’s a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility that’s going to be one of our main hubs. We started picking up and dropping off just a few weeks ago. There’s some office staff there, but we are planning to move a majority of the office in the fall. We will keep dispatch and some drivers at the Southampton office.
While some rides out east might be nice and quiet, there have probably been some interesting ones. Have you experienced any such rides?
Patty: There have been quite a few over the years. You have your general breakdowns, your drunken passengers who will sometimes cause scenes. We have our cell phone policy violators. We limit cell phone use to one three-minute call because no one wants to hear anyone else’s calls. We always have a few who think the policy doesn’t apply to them. This one person is sitting there talking about their business lunch and you have 50 people riding and screaming at them.
What is the best part of your job?
Patty: It’s honestly about the people. I love my coworkers. I’m from Connecticut originally, so when I moved out here everyone became my family. I’ve been to weddings, funerals, christenings, graduation parties. Most of the employees here came to my wedding. I met my husband here. My best friends are here.
[This interview has been edited]
- New Yorker Spotlight: Sarah Brasky of Foster Dogs NYC on Helping Pups Find Fur-Ever Homes
- New Yorker Spotlight: ‘Wildman’ Steve Brill Takes Adventurous Folks Foraging in the City’s Parks
- Helicopter Taxi Service Brings Commuters to JFK or Newark Airport in Six Minutes