Ulrich Hosts Town Hall Meeting On Ferry Service
That was the primary message Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson tried to convey to a packed audience at a town hall meeting regarding ferry service, hosted by Councilmember Eric Ulrich on Tuesday night.
“The metrics that would have determined the ferry a success have never been met,” Wolfson said. “I can’t say it will be extended indefinitely.”
The Rockaway commuter ferry, which is scheduled to be terminated on July 1 unless a viable plan is implemented, has never averaged the minimum threshold of 300 riders per day to make the ferry self sustaining when added to what the city considers a reasonable subsidy.
Wolfson told the audience that different modes of transportation need different city subsidies.
According to Wolfson, for example, on average, the subsidy per ride, per person on the city subway is $.56, Those who ride MTA buses are subsidized to the tune of $1.64 for each ride. Staten Island Ferry and Long Island Rail Road riders are subsidized $6.00 for each ride. The city subsidy for the Rockaway ferry service, however, is currently $19.57 per ride, costing the taxpayers approximately $3,000 per day.
He pointed out that the subsidy for the ferry service was roughly three times that of the LIRR and Staten Island Ferry, adding that the ferry has to have at least 300 riders per day to get the subsidy down and keep the service viable.
According to statistics provided by the city, the ridership totals have hovered below the 200 mark since September of 2009. At its height, during the summer of 2008, the service had fewer than 300 riders each day.
A deal was struck last month to extend the service until July 1, but to cut the number of runs in half, to just one a day.
“By reducing the service to just one trip a day we reduced overall costs by 32 percent,” ferry operator and president of New York Water Taxi, Tom Fox, said. However, some residents in the crowd thought it was a reasonable amount of subsidy to provide an adequate means of transportation to a geographically challenged area.
“Three-thousand dollars is next to nothing to provide transportation for the area. This will help make Rockaway a destination for people.” resident Steve Greenberg said.
Fox says that weekend service to the peninsula is just as important because it is a way of bringing people to Rockaway.
But one consistent complaint is that the ferry is not very accommodating to most residents of the peninsula east of Belle Harbor.
Fox suggested that an additional stop could be made at Knapp Street in Brooklyn, where there is parking for 200 cars, but of course would extend the ride another eight minutes. The most thought-worthy suggestion from Fox, however, was to operate a shuttle bus from Arverne by the Sea to Riis Landing as a way of increasing ridership.
Residents tried to make Wolfson understand that transportation from Rockaway to Manhattan on the train is a nightmare and that the ferry is needed as an alternative.
“There is no easy way for people to get to the city,” resident John Lepore said. “We are geographically isolated and City Hall always neglects Rockaway, but now we’d like to see some of our tax dollars come back here.”
Another resident, Denise O’Connell, says that people will not spend $700,000 on a new home if there is no adequate means of getting to work.
For Wolfson and the city it is all about reducing the subsidy and he expressed little to no interest in utilizing the $15 million of federal funding secured by Congressman Anthony Weiner for new ferry boats.
“We don’t believe we need money for ferries right now,” Wolfson said. “We need money to operate the service.”