2008-05-16 / Front Page

Ferry Tale Turns Grimm On Day One

By Howard Schwach

Rain pelted down and wicked winds nearly pulled a large tent off the ground at Riis Landing on Monday as several political and National Park Service officials inaugurated the longawaited commuter ferry from Rockaway to lower Manhattan.

Despite the terrible weather, 51 intrepid locals took the chance and utilized the two morning ferry runs to get to school and work.

A press conference was held under a tent hard by the churning waters of Jamaica Bay, the Marine Parkway Bridge in the background. City Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., was hailed as the hero of the day for coming up with more than a million dollars in city money to subsidize the two-year pilot. Addabbo touted the new service, while adding that it would have to be "tweaked" before it would serve all of Rockaway's commuter needs.

"I believe the start of the Rockaway ferry is a positive step forward toward utilizing our waterways as a mode of transportation," the councilman said. "I am so proud to be a part of bringing this ferry service to the residents of Rockaway, and I look forward to watching my constituents use this new option for their commute."

Addabbo was prescient. On Monday afternoon, officials of New York Water Taxi, the company running the service, responded to commuter complaints and changed the evening schedule of boats returning to Rockaway.

The first returning boat will now leave Pier 11 in lower Manhattan at 3:30 p.m., rather than 4:30 p.m. That allows the second boat to be moved an hour earlier as well. That boat will now leave Pier 11 at 5:30 p.m. rather than 6:30 p.m.

The schedule change was a response to those who argued that they got out of work around 5 p.m. and did not want to hang around Manhattan until the scheduled 6:30 trip.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn added at Monday's press conference, "Ferry service will make the very difficult commute between the Rockaways and Manhattan much easier and less expensive. Plus, by riding the ferry rather than getting into an automobile [for the commute], those who use the service will be making an important contribution to the effort to make sure that New York City remains clean, green and sustainable for years to come. I would like to thank the people of the Rockaways who fought long and hard for this day."

Quinn may be in error, however, about the benefits of the ferry in terms of both price and speed.

Daily News reporter Brendan Brosh, a former Wave staffer, and his colleague, Veronika Belenkaya, took the trip from the press conference to Wall Street in very different ways.

Brosh, a Rockaway resident, took the ferry from Riis Landing to Pier 11.

Belenkaya left the press conference at the same time that Brosh climbed the American Princess' ladder to board the ferry.

She took the Q 35 MTA bus from Beach 169 Street across the street from the ferry landing, over the Marine Parkway Bridge to Brooklyn, where she boarded the #2 Train to Wall Street.

Who won the race? The ferry pulled into Pier 11 at Wall Street at 8:49 a.m., an hour after it left Riis Landing.

Belekaya got off the #2 Train at 8:44 a.m. By 8:49 she was in a local Starbucks awaiting Brosh's arrival.

Since the ferry left Rockaway four minutes late due to the press conference and the fact that all of the politicians had to get on board with the television cameras shooting away, the race was declared a tie.

The cost for Brosh's ferry ride was $6, however. Belekaya spent $2 for her bus and subway ride, a difference of $4 each way. That would add up to a saving of $40 a week, commuters say.

Tania Sterl, 36, a fashion designer who was riding the ferry, told Brosh, "It's expensive. Maybe it's good one night after work for a leisurely ride, but not every day."

Which ride was more enjoyable?

Brosh says that the land trip taken by Belekaya missed "the breathtaking views of Coney Island, the Verrazano Bridge and the Statue of Liberty."

Tom Fox, the president of New York Water Taxi, told reporters at the conference that his target is 300 commuters each day, but admitted that "it will take a while to get to that number," adding that even 300 riders a day would not make the service profitable enough to continue after the two-year pilot program runs out.

Fox said that it would take 700 riders a day to make the service profitable, a number that some locals at the press conference considered unreachable.

Fox said that he believes that his potential riders come from Breezy Point, Roxbury, Belle Harbor and Neponsit.

Department of Transportation figures show, however, that approximately 600 residents who live in those areas work in lower Manhattan. That would mean Fox would have to get all of those commuters to use his ferry service and he would still fall short of his 700-rider target.

Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska sees little benefit from the ferry for those who live east of Belle Harbor.

"Sixty percent of the population [of Rockaway] lives in Far Rockaway," he told New York Times reporter Umar Cheema, adding that he doubted that people in that area would drive 15 or 20 minutes to Riis Landing for the ferry service.

"I am not optimistic, but I am curious to see what happens," Gaska added.

Lisa Eckert is the superintendent of the Jamaica Bay Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. In her remarks at the press conference, she quoted The Wave's headline last week, "Rockaway Ferry Tale To Come True Monday."

Eckert said that the service was indeed a "fairy tale come true."

At which, Congressman Anthony Weiner said aloud, "When you have to quote The Wave, you have problems."

The twenty people in the audience, all huddled under a rumbling tent as the rain pelted down, laughed.

"This is the start of something good for Rockaway," Weiner said in his remarks. "With some tweaking, this will prove to be a valuable service to the people on the peninsula."

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