2014-01-24 / Front Page

Sail On!

Ferry Service Gets Renewal
By Kevin Boyle

This year, the mayor might actually hear some cheers. Under the perception that he did little for Rockaway, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was showered with boos and catcalls at recent Rockaway St. Patrick Day parades. If he shows, the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, seems sure to get an opposite reaction thanks to his decision to extend the Rockaway ferry.

Chided for being a no-show in Rockaway during his campaign, it probably won’t matter much if he never sets foot here as long as he delivers like he did on Tuesday when he announced the new ferry plans.

The ferry, which sails weekdays from Beach 108th Street, will be extended three months, through the end of April. The fare will jump to $3.50 and should ridership remain at 50 percent of its current level, the service will be extended another three months. The average daily ridership in the fall of 2013 was 555 passengers.

While these extensions are in place, the City will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for ferry operators interested in taking over the service for what will likely be a 5-year term. The City recently renewed the East River ferry through 2019.

With the new fare of $3.50, the subsidy required to keep the service afloat is approximately $4 million per year, hardly a budget buster in a city with a $70 billion budget.

The ferry was put in place when Hurricane Sandy knocked out the A Line. When the A came back, many city officials expected ferry ridership to tail off. In fact, the ridership actually increased as more people returned to Rockaway after being displaced and word got out that, for many, the service was a pleasant alternative to the subway.

The current operator, Seastreak, will continue the short-term extensions and then, presumably, compete with other operators to win the 5-year contract.

The de Blasio announcement was welcome news to local officials and residents alike and, coincidentally, preempted a Save The Ferry rally scheduled for later in the day. Residents and local officials have been pushing to make the ferry service permanent for the past several months.

Once its value and popularity became apparent, The Wave asked all mayoral candidates to go on record about supporting the service. In July, 2013, a de Blasio spokesman told the Wave: “he would commit to not cutting the ferry.”

Currently, there are five Rockaway departures on weekday mornings and five return trips from Manhattan. There were reports that the City, through the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), was looking to scale back service and jack the fare to $5 each way but was swayed by new Borough President Melinda Katz to keep the service the same and to limit the fare hike to $3.50.

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