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The Return of the Ferry to the Big Apple—to All Five Boroughs

Ferries, New York City's first commuter mode, will return big-time if Mayor Bill de Blasio gets his way. Judging by how well the proposal in his February 3 State of the City address was received, he will.
February 6, 2015, 8am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"[Four] months after discontinuing the Rockaway ferry, because of what officials said were high costs and a relatively small ridership, Mr. de Blasio announced plans for a 'new citywide ferry service,' to begin in 2017, with routes that would serve, among other areas, Astoria, the Lower East Side and, once again, the Rockaways," writes Matt Flegenheimer, transportation reporter for The New York Times.

“We’re the ultimate coastal city. But somehow we haven’t had a true ferry system in decades,” [de Blasio] said, getting perhaps the day’s most robust applause [during his State of the City address at Baruch College] when discussing the subject. “We need to right this wrong.”

WNYC - The Brian Lehrer Show: Sink or Swim: de Blasio's Ferry Plan
Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Rockaway ferry, implemented after Hurricane Sandy caused the suspension of the "A" subway service to the the peninsula, was immensely popular for Rockaway residents—for those who used it as the trip to Manhattan was speedier than the subway. But it was discontinued in October because of the hefty subsidy required and low ridership. Yet the cost for the new city-wide ferry will be the same fare as a subway ride.

According to am New York last July, "[the] responses [from ferry companies to operate the Rockaway service]… confirmed the unsustainable cost of long-term service at current ridership levels," said Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Barring an extraordinary increase in ridership that brings that cost down significantly, this is not a service we'll be able to continue past October."

That brings up the touch subject of subsidies—how much will be required per passenger? The topic was discussed on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show on Thursday [Click on above link to listen].

According to guest Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, the East River Ferries only require $2 per person, the same as an MTA city bus, but much less than MTA city's bus rapid transit (select service).

Currently the fare for city bus, including the select servcie, is $2.50, East River Ferry, $4.00. De Blasio would have the new ferry service, which presumably would include the existing East River service, operated by NY Waterway, be the same as bus or subway, due to increase to $2.75 on March 22.

The administration said it had committed $55 million in capital funds to the project, and anticipated an operating subsidy of $10 million to $20 million a year. 

The system is due to be in operation by 2017. As Lehrer states, de Blasio need not get the governor's blessings because it will be run by the city as opposed to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), though presumably that would mean getting the City Council to agree. Judging by the proposal's reception at Baruch College, that shouldn't be a problem.

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Published on Thursday, February 5, 2015 in The New York Times - N.Y. / Region
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