2013-08-23 / Front Page

Ferry Lives On

By Dan Guarino

The tide has turned once again for Rockaway’s ferry service.

“Ferry service has proven to be a popular and effective mode of transportation for Rockaway and Brooklyn residents,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said as he announced the extension of the weekday ferry service to January 31st, 2014.

“Extending the service through January will allow riders to continue taking advantage of this quick, enjoyable and sustainable transit option,” he said.

Bloomberg also confirmed the one-way fare will remain at $2.

Seastreak, the company which currently operates the Manhattan/Rockaway route, has confirmed their contract with New York City has been extended to the end of January.

“We’re certainly proud to be a part of this,” Seastreak President James Barker said, “and happy to serve the people of Rockaway longer.”

Seastreak provides daily service between the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan, with a stop in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Ferries depart from Monday to Friday from Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive, stopping at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park and at Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan. There is free transfer from Pier 11 to East 34th Street in midtown Manhattan.

The Brooklyn Terminal stop was added in August due to extensive hurricane damage repairs on the R train.

Passenger figures provided to the City show approximately 120,000 passengers have used the service since it started in November of last year.

According to NYC Economic Development Corporation President Kyle Kimball, “Strong demand for the continuation of the ferry service demonstrates its value both to commuters seeking convenient and sustainable transportation to their jobs, as well as to visitors, who generate critical economic activity for these communities.”

Since the current extension will expire one month after a new mayor takes office, Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder and City Council Member Eric Ulrich have launched an effort to secure the ferry’s continuation under whichever new administration comes into office.

At a press conference on Thursday, August 22nd, they announced a bipartisan initiative to call on all the Democratic and Republican mayoral candidates to publicly pledge their support for permanent ferry service to and from the Rockaways.

Some weeks back, The Wave asked candidates to go on record on where they stand on the ferry’s future. Their responses have been published in past editions.

Seastreak confirmed they have no further information on any contract extensions after January 31st.

The ferry, commissioned by the City to provide a transportation alternative to the Hurricane Sandy wrecked A train line, began service on November 11th, 2012.

With the eventual repair of the A train and its reopening on May 30th, many in the Rockaways feared that the ferry would soon disappear. Adding to this fear, Mayor Bloomberg announced the service would be extended, but only to July 12th.

On July 2nd, the mayor announced a further extension to Labor Day.

At the time the City confirmed a ridership of 90,000 passengers since the service started, with a daily average of 700 commuters.

Throughout the 10 plus months since the storm, pressure from local residents and political figures and support from riders has helped keep the ferry issue front and center.

In interviews and at numerous public meetings, candidates for mayor, as well as those for Queens Borough President and Public Advocate, have been asked about their commitment to continuing the service permanently.

On June 28th, Goldfeder and a group of Rockaway and Broad Channel residents delivered 3,000 signatures to City Hall, urging the mayor to make it permanent now.

Declared Goldfeder, “Over 3,000 families have sent a clear message to Mayor Bloomberg that they want the ferry service to continue indefinitely. The Rockaway Ferry is not only a smart and efficient means of travel, it will continue to provide much needed transportation options and assistance to help our communities recover after Sandy.”

Public rallies have also played a part. Organizers confirm that despite the extension announcement, a rally planned for Thursday, August 29th, from 3:45 to 6:45 p.m. at the ferry landing at Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive will still take place.

Responding to the mayor’s announcement, Rockaway civic activists Danny and Linda Ruscillo advised residents by e-mail, “Even if you hear that the Rockaway Ferry will be extended to this January this is not acceptable!!!! We want it for good.”

Seastreak president Barker did confirm that based on increased ridership, the City has given his company the go ahead to put a 505 passenger capacity, 130 foot vessel into service on the run.

“This is the biggest, fastest, most luxurious vessel of its type in New York Harbor, with airline type seating (as opposed to bench seats), a full bar and flat screen televisions.”

Currently the company operates two 100 foot, 150 passenger boats. The new vessel would replace one of them.

Asked about a possible expansion of the ferry’s route, including a JFK airport, Rockaway, Manhattan, LaGuardia airport loop, Barker said “We would be interested in looking into those options.”

Acknowledging that the City and, in the case of JFK, the Port Authority of NY/NJ, would have to formally put forward the proposal, he did say “It’s something we would be interested in talking about.”

Seastreak is currently making repairs to the Beach 108th Street terminal, preparing the line ahead of time for winter.

“We really enjoy working with the customers in the Rockaways,” Barker commented, “getting to know the residents. We appreciate their support and their making us feel welcome here.”

Mayor Bloomberg also announced the Brooklyn Army Terminal to lower Manhattan run, dubbed the ‘new R train’, would also be extended to January 31st.

Echoing his Rockaway counterparts, Councilman Vincent Gentile of Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst told the Brooklyn Daily, “Just as we expected, this ferry service has been wildly popular. I encourage people to skip the subway crowds and use the ferry which will get you to Wall Street in 15 minutes for just $2.00!”

Wave editor Kevin Boyle speculates the ferry will have a longer life than January 31st, 2014. “No new mayor is going to come in and cancel the ferry before marching in the Rockaway St. Patrick’s Day Parade. That gets us to March 9th. After that we’re into spring when ridership will be on the upswing.”

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