It’s My Turn
Breezy Point resident Ellen McCarthy is a regular rider on the Rockaway commuter ferry to Manhattan.
The last time I wrote the “It’s My Turn” column was in May 2008. At the time, I reported enthusiastically that the Rockaway ferry had arrived. I took the ferry to work during its inaugural week and found it to be a relaxing, safe, cost-effective way to commute from the Rockaways to Manhattan. From the very beginning, that was the consensus of my fellow riders, whose numbers steadily increased as word got out that Rockaway finally had a reliable, direct way to get to Manhattan.
Here are the statistics. In 2009 alone, the Rockaway ferry carried more than 46,000 residents and visitors to and from the peninsula. Citywide, ferry ridership fell 14.3%. By contrast, the Rockaway ferry ridership increased by 2.3%. That’s a net 16.6% gain in ferry ridership, attributable to the Rockaway ferry.
That ridership translates into federal mass transit funding for New York, making the Rockaway ferry self-sufficient. In other words, the Rockaway ferry generates enough federal monies, based on passenger miles traveled, for the Rockaway ferry to pay for itself. The Rockaway ferry generates more than $1 million dollars in federal mass transit funds. That’s at least as much as New York City pays to subsidize the Rockaway ferry, and most likely more than the cost of the City’s subsidy.
On our transportation-starved peninsula, the Rockaway ferry provides a vital service. It is the only reliable, fast, and direct way to get to lower Manhattan. True, we do have an express bus, but that only goes to midtown Manhattan. There is also the A train, but it is not safe and it is certainly not direct. The A train takes the long way to Manhattan – a very circuitous and roundabout route all through parts of Quens and Brooklyn before reaching the City.
And for many residents of non-central parts of the peninsula, the express bus and the A train are not direct.
You either have to take at least one other bus to reach the express bus or A train, or you have to drive to the express bus stop or A train station and then face the uncertainties of trying to find a place to park. True, there is a municipal parking lot near the A train station on Beach 116 Street, but paying for parking adds significantly to the cost of your commute. And if you don’t catch the limited number of A trains that go directly to Manhattan, you have to take a shuttle train to Broad Channel and wait there (sometimes an interminably long time) to change to an A train that’s bound straight for the City. If you’re lucky, you’ll go all the way through. If not, you’ll have to change trains again at Euclid Avenue or at the Broadway/East New York station deep in Brooklyn.
The City is cutting both the express bus and the A train service, so expect these modes of transportation to and from the Peninsula to get even slower and less reliable. The cuts eliminate weekend A train service entirely.
Contrast all this to the quality and safety of a trip on the Rockaway ferry, where there is free easy access parking at Riis Landing, a comfortable boat, a professional and courteous crew, a reliable schedule that gets you directly to Manhattan faster than any other mode of mass transportation, and spectacular views of such local landmarks the Coney Island Parachute Jump, the Brooklyn Cyclones Stadium, the Seagate Lighthouse, Governor’s Island, and the Verrazano Bridge. Dolphins have even been sighted by the Rockaway ferry ridership. You get all of this for just $6 per one-way trip, or $5.40 if you buy a discounted 40-trip ticket which is good for a whole year. That’s less than the $5.50 it costs to ride the express bus, and much less than it costs in tolls, gas, and parking fees to drive to Manhattan.
The Rockaway ferry has changed the lives of its riders, and not just the daily commuters who no longer have to deal with traffic jams on the Belt Parkway and Gowanus Expressway, or pay for tolls on the Marine Parkway Bridge and Battery Tunnel and for parking in expensive lots in Manhattan. The Rockaway ferry is used regularly by peninsula residents who go sightseeing in Manhattan for the day, take the 4:30 afternoon boat into the City and go to a Broadway play or have dinner with friends and/or family in Manhattan’s great restaurants. Rockaway residents who have medical appointments in Manhattan use the ferry. College students use the ferry to return home to Rockaway for school breaks.
Last year, Firefighters from Rockaway as well as other parts of Queens and Long Island packed the ferry after a fellow Firefighter’s funeral at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Yankee fans found the ferry to be a great way to get to the ticker tape parade last fall. Moreover, the Rockaway ferry has positively impacted the economy of the peninsula, as it brought boatloads of summer weekend visitors to our beaches and commercial establishments last year alone.
Through nor’easters, rainstorms, and blizzards, the Rockaway ferry is always there for the peninsula. Even when A train service is suspended due to ice or other weather conditions, the Rockaway ferry keeps running. The ferry is never delayed by the various bridge openings that often delay buses going to and from the Peninsula. During the most recent snowstorm that dropped almost two feet of snow on the Rockaways and negatively impacted train and bus service, the Rockaway ferry safely and reliably got commuters to and from their jobs in Manhattan comfortably, and on time.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation is simply wrong to terminate Rockaway ferry service. The communities of the Rockaway peninsula depend on the ferry, which is selfsufficient and brings New York important federal funding.