Quinn: Rockaway To Pilot Commuter Ferry
Ferries once transported millions of people a year around the New York City waterfront, bringing people to work and consumables to local stores. If City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has her way, what was old might become new again.
"With some neighborhoods more than three quarters of a mile from a subway station, we need to examine other modes of transportation," said Quinn, on February 12. "It's only natural that we look at our natural highways - our waterways - to move New Yorkers efficiently and sustainably."
She said the idea for a wide-ranging ferry service, which has the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, came from listening to New Yorkers, specifically those from Broad Channel and Rockaway, who spoke out on the issue to Quinn as well as to members of the council's Transportation Committee, including Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., at a hearing last April.
"We heard complaint after complaint about commute times from local residents," said Quinn. "Soon after, we began exploring the concept of a pilot ferry service for the Rockaways. We got a commitment from the mayor to fund it, and that service should be up and running by this summer."
While Quinn was confident about the Rockaway service starting this summer, Janel Patterson, a representative for the city's Economic Development Corporation would not commit to a definite time line.
He said that the agency is in the process of finalizing its analysis of the Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI) to find a private ferry operator that would serve the Rockaways.
"I hate to put a time frame on it, because there are too many moving parts. We want to get it done as quickly as we can," said Patterson, earlier this week. "I think we're close."
Besides Rockaway, Quinn suggested such ferry connections as Hunt's Point to Coney Island, Astoria to downtown Manhattan, or a service from Brooklyn to Queens that would allow passengers to skip the G train.
Response to Quinn's proposal has been positive from many communities that would benefit from a commuter ferry service.
A longtime proponent of expanding ferry service in the city, Addabbo applauded Quinn's proposal as "a critical step in helping to ease congestion and provide another viable transportation alternative."
"[It] could also create other possibilities of promoting Rockaway in a more positive way," said Addabbo.
Congressman Anthony Weiner has been working for several years to expand ferry service in the city. In 2005 he secured $15 million for a Rockaway ferry and $1.7 million for the construction of a dock at Riis Landing.
"I am thrilled that the city has changed its tune on ferry service to the Rockaways," said Weiner in an email to The Wave. "I have long argued and campaigned for this. It's exciting news. I'm puzzled at the city's decision to use city tax dollars rather than the federal grant I secured, but we will use that money to expand ferry service even more."
A source inside Weiner's office said the federal funds could be used for such amenities as increased parking for ferry customers or buses to transport passengers to the docks.
The mayor's office did not immediately return calls or emails to comment on passing up the $15 million in federal funds.
Councilman John Liu, the chair of the council's Transportation Committee, called the five-borough ferry proposal "an absolutely great idea" that would be a critical part for any congestion pricing plan.
In a press release, Liu estimated that it would cost $100 million a year to do any citywide ferry system correctly, but in the long run, would be a worthwhile investment.
The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance (MWA), which is made up of 323 civic organizations whose mission it is to improve the waterways of the region, endorsed Quinn's plan in a press release.
"A ferry ride to work should be as affordable as a subway or bus ride, and the ferries should be seamlessly integrated into our mass transit system," said the MWA.
The MWA made several recommendations for the proposed service including using MetroCard Technology for fare collection on the ferries; connecting upland transit buses to every ferry landing; creating access between central business districts and airports via ferry; and developing a region-wide master plan for ferries that links boats to landside mass transit, including buses.
Quinn said a detailed plan for developing the new ferry system, which she called "one of the most significant transit initiatives in recent New York City history," will be unveiled later this month.