Mayor Promises City Funds For Rockaway Ferry Study Commuter Service From Riis Landing
By Howard Schwach
After saying for years that the city would never subsidize a commuter ferry service from Rockaway to Manhattan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took to the boardwalk at Beach 126 Street on Tuesday to announce that he would "test the waters, by beginning a study that would bring a private, subsidized service from Riis Landing in Breezy Point to Lower Manhattan by 2011."
Joined by City Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Bloomberg said that a commuter ferry service was long overdue in Rockaway and that it would significantly cut the commuting time to Manhattan.
"The question was never, should we do it, but how can we do it?" the mayor said, announcing that a Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI) would be issued on Wednesday asking private ferry operators to come up with a plan to serve Rockaway with at least two trips in each direction during weekday rush hours.
"One of the strengths of PlanNYC is how it encouraged people of different interests to work together for the city's future," the mayor said. "Now, we're inviting private ferry operators to enter the discussions and to come up with a viable plan to serve the Rockaways."
Operators would have until 4 p.m. on June 21 to come up with a plan, the mayor said. While the price of the service depends on the individual provider, the mayor said he hoped that it would cost no more than the $5 charged on most express bus runs.
The service would run as a pilot program for a minimum of two years, according to the city's Economic Development Corporation, which would be in charge of the program.
"It takes a lot of money to get a boat and it takes a while to build in ridership," Bloomberg said. "One of the things we can do is give people some support until it gets going."
Previous efforts to connect the Rockaways to Manhattan by ferry have been sunk by high costs and environmental factors.
A pilot weekend ferry from Breezy Point to Manhattan slated mostly for tourists to Gateway National Park, failed in 2003 because of its $26 round trip cost, experts say.
An earlier ferry service, from Inwood at the eastern end of Jamaica Bay, failed as well because the high-speed boat generated damage to some of the piers and jetties that line the bayfront. Forcing the ferry to slow down increased the time of the run significantly, to the point where it was no longer viable, experts told The Wave.
Bloomberg said that the amount of the city subsidy would not be known until the plans are submitted and studied. Addabbo told reporters that he would expect that it would cost the city approximately one million dollars a year to run the service.
"You've got a population growth here like no other place in the city," Addabbo said. "Rockaway can support a ferry if it is structured correctly."
Published reports late in the week said that at least two private ferry services plan to respond to the city's RFEI: New York Water Taxi and New York Waterway, the two largest players in the local ferry industry.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn contacted The Wave to say that she and the council back the pilot program.
"For too long, residents of the Rockaways and Southern Queens have had inadequate mass transportation options," Quinn said. "With the firm commitment of the Mayor and the Council behind the extension of ferry service from Riis Landing to lower Manhattan, we are taking a major step in getting that part of the city back on the grid."
Congressman Anthony Weiner was also pleased with the mayor's announcement.
"I commend the mayor for adopting a proposal that many of us in Rockaway have been talking about for years," Weiner said. "It is a matter of common sense that a water-bound community like Rockaway should have access to timely, efficient and predictable ferry service."
In August of 2004, Weiner secured $15 million in the federal transportation bill for the city to purchase three fast ferryboats for the Rockaway run.
He also secured $1.7 million in federal funds for the construction of Riis Landing.
"It is finally a sign of progress that the Mayor has committed a subsidy of three to six million dollars to ensure that the pilot program will cost the same or less as an express bus. It is a plan that is welcomed by the citizens of Rockaway and I look forward to being on the inaugural journey," Weiner added.
Joe Hartigan, a local resident who has pushed for ferry service for many years, pointed out to the mayor that the Staten Island Ferry is fully-subsidized by the city.
The mayor smiled and said that there are certainly more people in Staten Island than there are in Rockaway.
The Mayor's PlanNYC report says that the two-year program will begin in 2011 and that it would cost the city $40 million.