Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Ferries are making waves in Queens
As the city negotiates its 2014-15 budget, officials are hearing from residents in Rockaway eager to learn more about a request for proposals to run a five-year ferry service from the peninsula to Manhattan. Others are pushing for money to initiate a pilot study of ferrying commuters from Astoria to the city now that an East River route from Long Island City to Manhattan has exceeded ridership expectations.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announced June 4 that they had secured $6 million in federal funding for upgrading boats and improving ferry landing structures, including one in Hunters Point South.
Ferry service has proven popular because it offers a roomier and quicker alternative to the overcrowded buses and trains or traffic-clogged roads, according to the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.
The boats’ resiliency during emergencies is another draw, according to alliance President and CEO Roland Lewis.
“After 9/11, after the blackout, after Sandy, the transit strike, the water was there,” said Lewis. “We’ve learned our lesson, but we haven’t learned it well enough.”
In late May, a Seastreak ferry was giving elected officials a tour of the route when it got stuck on shallow ground in Jamaica Bay. Nobody was injured and the FDNY transported the roughly 30 passengers ashore on boats. Elected officials were quick to praise the prospect of ferry service after the incident.
The city instituted ferry service from the Rockaway Peninsula to Pier 11 at 34th Street in Manhattan to temporarily replace the A train during post-Superstorm Sandy repairs.
Then a second Rockaway departure point and a stop at Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park were added. Service was extended after subway lines were repaired because ridership was high — in fact, the city Economic Development Corp. found passenger levels increased after A trains were up and running.
Similarly, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg opted to continue ferry service from Manhattan to Long Island City and northern Brooklyn neighborhoods through 2019 because the 3 million riders the route attracted in its first 2 1/2 years far surpassed initial estimations.
The city budget currently only contains funds to maintain the Rockaway route through October, but state Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach) said several groups had submitted proposals to the EDC to operate the service for a five-year trial.
Lewis said the alliance is pushing for money in the upcoming budget to fund a pilot ferry service for neighborhoods along the upper East River, from Soundview in the Bronx to Astoria into Manhattan.
He estimated the study would cost slightly more than $6 million over three years, which was the cost of a prior East River test run that legitimized and initiated a five-year contract for the current ferry route from Hunters Point South in Long Island City to Manhattan.
“You have to have a recurring source of revenue for it to be permanent,” Lewis said, “or a ferry improvement district where you charge a small amount to developers in the nearby areas to help get it up and running.”
He contended ferries were a wise government investment. The EDC agreed, noting the $2.22 subsidy per passenger on the East River ferry is comparable to how much the government contributes to local bus services.