Ferry–Bad Season For Weekend Service
NY Waterway announced weekend ferry service from Manhattan to the Rockaways on a sunny spring day back in June.
The wind was low that day, and the sun was shining. The East River looked inviting as company representatives, elected officials, National Park Service representatives and reporters boarded a ferryboat for its maiden voyage from west 34 Street to Fort Tilden.
The next step, Congressman Anthony Weiner said enthusiastically, would be weekday service for Rockaway commuters.
But now, after a summer of washout-weekends, the future of seasonal service is in doubt – and the introduction of commuter service even less likely.
Weekend service officially ended on September 1, but it never really got started, according to John Ruzich, NY Waterway Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
"We had five good weekends all summer," Ruzich lamented. In fact, significant rainfall was measured on one out of every three days between June and the end of August, according to Bernie Rayno, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist. While temperatures were just slightly below normal, rainfall was
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above average, Rayno said.
NY Waterways’ numbers were just as dismal.
In all, less than 270 roundtrips were sold – that’s no where near the kind of number that would make the service profitable, Ruzich said. The total cost of operating a NY Waterway catamaran ferry, including captain, crew, fuel etc. is about $500 an hour, according to Ruzich.
Had there been sunnier skies, the cooperative effort between the ferry company, the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation and Ford Motor Company might have more accurately demonstrated whether people would pay $26 for a round-trip (adult) between the western end of the peninsula and Manhattan. Although Weiner and others billed the ferry as a faster and more comfortable alternative to the steamy subways and congested roads, many doubted if the ticket price could attract riders. Choosing the A-train over the ferry would save an adult $22.
Ruzich pointed out that similar service to Sandy Hook, New Jersey is successful – with the same ticket prices, 2,700 more round trips were sold on that route.
"It comes as no surprise to me that an unsubsidized, unadvertised, weekend-only ferry was not a big success," Weiner said, "Trial and error is teaching us that we need an affordable and reliable commuter ferry."
Though the future for ferry service in Rockaway seems uncertain, Ruzich said it could be premature to count summer service out in 2004. Developing a successful route takes about three years, he said.
"I don’t think it had a good opportunity to demonstrate its potential," Ruzich said, adding that NY Waterways needs to call all the "players" involved back to the table to reevaluate their commitment and strategy.