Rockaway Ferry Tale To Come True Monday
At 5:45 a.m. on Monday morning, a small group of tired and chilly commuters are expected to line up to make Rockaway transportation history as the first regularly-scheduled commuter ferry gets set to make its first run from Riis Landing in Breezy Point to Pier 11 in lower Manhattan.
Last Monday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the beginning of a two-year pilot program that would launch two Manhattan runs and two return runs each weekday from Riis Landing in Breezy Point to Pier 11 in lower Manhattan, with an intermediate stop at the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
The ferry is due to leave Riis Landing at 5:45 a.m. for its first run and at 7:45 a.m. for its second and last run to Manhattan for the day. The first return run from Manhattan to Riis Landing is planned to leave Pier 11 at 4:30 p.m., with the second and last run planned for 6:30 p.m. Each run is expected to take approximately one hour, sparking the mayor to say at a recent press conference that the ferry will "cut a half-hour in the commute from Rockaway to Manhattan" by car or express bus.
"Bringing new ferry service to New York's waterways really is an idea that has been around for a long time and the question was never should we do this, but really rather how we can do this," Bloomberg said. The mayor added that the city is in discussion with Representative Anthony Weiner to find a use for the $15 million in federal funding the congressman secured in 2005 to buy three new ferries for a Rockaway commuter run. We're not going to walk away from $15 million," Bloomberg told reporters.
Weiner has long supported a Rockaway commuter ferry. He secured the money to build the ferry terminal at Riis Landing. "The new ferry service is good news," Weiner told The Wave in an exclusive telephone interview. "This is something that could have been done a long time ago, but it's good to see the city stepping up to begin the program. My only question is why they are not using the $15 million I funded [to build three new ferry boats], but I don't want to step on the news, because it is good news. Weiner said that he would use that money, earmarked three years ago, to "extend ferry service further"...What's important is that the service become successful, that people use it," he added. "This has always been the best commuter alternative."
Bloomberg said that the two-year pilot for a subsidized commuter ferry service to be run by New York Water Taxi, will be funded using $1.1 million allocated by City Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., who has been putting the allocations away for three years for just this eventuality.
Addabbo told The Wave that while he sees some problems with the new service, he sees it as "a good step forward....When I first ran for office, I told you that one of my priorities was a commuter ferry service for Rockaway," he told a Wave editor. "It only took seven years to get it done...There are some negatives with the plan," he added. "The volume of ridership will be a problem, and having only one boat makes the first run really early. Running the boat to a downtown location rather than a midtown pier will also be a negative for many locals."
"We had nothing before, and now we have something," the councilman added. "You can't start at the top and the ingredients are there for an improvement later on." Addabbo hopes that the service will attract enough riders to keep it going beyond the two years.
The mayor, speaking at his press conference, said that the pilot would not continue if it does not draw sufficient ridership. "If nobody uses the ferries, they're not going to survive, no matter what anybody promises you," he said. "If everybody keeps using them, they will continue to grow. Society can't keep providing things that aren't used."
Some locals believe, however, that the mayor's plan is designed to fail. Joe Hartigan is a long-time supporter of a commuter ferry plan for Rockaway, but believes that this one is flawed. Hartigan says that having the only ferry stop in Breezy Point, in the extreme west end of the peninsula, is "discriminatory."
"The ferry service should be designed to include the diverse and growing population of all of the Rockaways - from Far Rockaway to Breezy Point," Hartigan argues. "The City Council wanted the funds used for all Rockaway residents, not just those at the west end." He argues that there should be at least three stops, one at the eastern end of the peninsula, another at Beach 108 Street and the third at Riis Landing. "Where was the community input before signing the contract," Hartigan asks. "Where was the test run for community leaders?"
Other locals say that those who live east of Rockaway Park will probably not utilize the service.
"By the time the residents of Far Rockaway and Bayswater need to take the bus or drive to Fort Tilden and then take the ferry, the trip will be more like an hour and a half or two hours," one local said in a call to The Wave. "They might as well take the express bus, which at least takes them to midtown, rather than to Wall Street."
Another local who regularly used the service between the army terminal and Manhattan said that the new plan is a "scam." "Nobody is going to ride the 5:45 a.m. boat and nobody is going to ride the 6:30 p.m. boat back," he said. "The great majority of commuters get out of work between 4:45 and 5:15. Nobody is going to hang out until 6:30 to come back to Rockaway." He added that the fishing boat used for the run cannot move quickly enough to make it to Manhattan in one hour, pushing everything back. "They would be better served to make one run in the morning, at about 7:45, when about 90 percent of the commuters need it, and a run back at 5:30," he said. "The timing, the boat they will use, it's all a scandal."
Addabbo has joined Gateway National Recreation Area officials in announcing a press conference at Riis Landing, to be held on Monday, May 12 at 7:15 a.m. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn will join the councilman. Mayor Bloomberg, Congressman Weiner and other local politicians have been invited to attend.