2001-01-13 / Front Page

Port Authority Completes Ferry Study

Port Authority Completes Ferry Study

Completion of the Port Authority Ferry Feasibility Study could mean ferry service between Rockaway and Manhattan is one step closer to reality. 
Completion of the Port Authority Ferry Feasibility Study could mean ferry service between Rockaway and Manhattan is one step closer to reality.

Affordability A Major Factor, Says Stabile

By John C. McLoughlin

Rockaway’s chances of getting a ferry took another step in the right direction with the Port Authority’s release this week of a feasibility study.

At the request of Councilman Al Stabile, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Office of Ferry Transportation undertook a study of the feasibility of implementing ferry service between the Rockaways and Manhattan. Councilman Stabile’s request was prompted by the lack of convenient and rapid commutation alternatives available to residents of the Rockaways.

The Port Authority study first questioned whether there would be a sufficient market in the Rockaways to support a non-subsidized ferry service, recommending that a "detailed" market survey be done to determine if commuters from Nassau County, Brooklyn and Queens areas would travel to the ferry landing sites in Rockaway.

"The original focus of the study team was on a service exclusively from the Rockaways to Manhattan, with an intermediate stop in Brooklyn," said Charles Meara, spokesperson for the Port Authority. "It quickly became apparent, however, that an expanded market would have to be brought into the mix to develop the critical mass necessary for project viability."

When looking at the entire Rockaway peninsula, the 1990 Census shows that a total of only 5,410 commuters travel to midtown and downtown Manhattan for work purposes on a daily basis. The morning peak period – 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. – shows a total of only 3,785 people make the trip. According to the report, even if there was a 100 percent increase in the Manhattan journey-to-work commuters from Rockaway over the last 10 years, this would still provide a marginal market for an unsubsidized ferry.

Three ferry operators that serviced the Rockaways between 1987 and 1990 were unsubsidized, charging a round trip fare of $7 to $11. Although commuting time via a ferry from Rockaway to lower Manhattan can be as short as 35 minutes, the Port Authority cautioned that the fare would play a major role in the success or failure of future service.

The Port Authority also recommended that ferry service being considered to and from John F. Kennedy International Airport could be tied into the Rockaway ferry plans.

"Implementation of any of the proposed airport services, with stops throughout the Rockaways, would also enhance the financial viability of both market segments," Meara said.

Rockawayite and ferry advocate Joe Hartigan agrees. Hartigan, who was the first to bring up the idea of tying Rockaway’s ferry service into JFK Airport, was recently appointed to the Department of Transportation Office of Private Ferry Operation’s Technical Advisory Committee. This committee will be investigating waterborne access to New York City’s airports.

In the study the Port Authority identified four potential ferry sites in the Jamaica Bay area: the former Coast Guard station in Rockaway Point; the Gateway Marina near Floyd Bennett Field; Beach 116 street; and the Sewage Treatment Plant at Beach 108 street and Beach Channel drive. According to the report, each of these sites offers good waterside access, with deep water and proximity to well marked channels. The Port Authority estimates that each site will require an additional investment of $500,000 to one million dollars for waterside and upland improvements.

Officials from the National Park Service announced last spring that they would be seeking ferry operators to service Gateway National Recreation Area. With the assistance of Congressman Anthony Weiner, the National Park Service developed the former Coast Guard station into a viable ferry landing.

Gateway’s attraction to ferry service for Rockaway stemmed from plans to create water-based transportation to its parks throughout the metropolitan tri-state area, but have also agreed to keep the community’s interest of commuter service in mind.

Gateway officials are presently reviewing applications from ferry operators who have expressed an interest in the "Riis Landing" site.

Referring to the Port Authority study, Councilman Stabile said it was "nothing earth shattering. I’m not totally happy with the study. It’s basically info I gave them from day one."

Stabile plans to meet with Congressman Weiner and other elected officials to discuss the study and to get commitments to make the ferry a reality. One of those commitments would be to see the ferry subsidized.

"If we can’t make it affordable," Stabile said, "who’s going to use it?"

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