By Siyu Qian
The new citywide ferry service that Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in his State of City Address last Tuesday is a promise that’s too little and too late for some Rockaway residents. The mayor said the strengthened ferry system, which is planned to begin in 2017, will connect the five boroughs including transit-starved neighborhoods like Rockaway at subway fare prices.
“We used to have our ferry service and he took it away from us,” said Laura Deckelman, a photographer and lifelong Rockaway resident, “Two years is too long to wait for the ferry service.”
The Rockaway ferry started in Novermber 2012 as a post-Hurricane Sandy commuting alternative between Manhattan, Brooklyn and Rockaway, when the A-train was disrupted and stopped for six months. Then-mayor Michael. Bloomberg, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and Seastreak Ferry Company agreed on a partnership to run a temporary ferry line.
The Rockaway ferry, however, was meant to be only a temporary fix to give residents access to mass transportation after the storm.
Rockaway residents liked it so much that each time the temporary contract between the city and the ferry company lapsed, they petitioned and protested to keep the funding. The ferry service was extended four times, but was finally terminated on Oct. 31, 2014. City Hall claimed that continuing to run the Rockaway Ferry was no longer feasible, due to the high subsidy required to maintain it., estimated to be as high $25 to $30 per ride, for about 800 riders a day.
The ferry has been missed. Like most residents in Rockaway, Maggie Hopkins, who worked at the Columbia Business School in Upper Manhattan, could not believe they had managed to live without the ferry for so many years before Hurricane Sandy, “To think that there wasn’t a ferry to Rockaway before is kind of crazy,” she said. “It was one of the good things that came out of the hurricane.”
Hopkins said she often rode the ferry to her home in Rockaway, the southernmost part of Queens. She began taking the ferry soon after the route started up. Many of her friends lived in Manhattan, and it became easier for her to spend more time with them. They could have dinner and a few drinks in restaurants on Stone Street, which became a popular destination for people from Rockaway after the ferry service started.
“It was our lifeline. I have to stay late quite frequently at my job, so it was nice to have the ferry as an option and not have to sit on the train, knowing that I wouldn’t be getting home for an hour and a half or two hours,” said Hopkins. She added that the ferry cut the travel time in half for those who work downtown or in midtown Manhattan.
“It’s odd that there aren’t more sites in New York that offer commuting ferries,” she said.
Hopkins said that sometimes driving into the city was an option, but parking could be a problem. “I had to spend a lot more time staying over at friends’ houses,” said Hopkins.
In a New Yorker article published on the last day of service, writer Mary Norris noted that the locals had their own solutions to making the ferry financially viable: maybe weekend service for tourists and surfers; or a stop at Kennedy Airport, which would be a lot more fun for travelers to New York rather than the long, traffic-ridden taxi slog, or the rattling, crowded subway train.
“The ferry was great. It cut into the heart of The financial district. Ending it definitely hurt the business,” said Cecil Brando, a bar owner in Rockaway, “There is no other high-speed transportation here, but people in Manhattan want something fast.”
Ferry activists in Rockaway hope that the mayor would continue the Rockaway ferry this year, not in two. “That’s the least he can do for us,” Rockaway photographer Deckelman said.
A New York Ferry Tale
Mayor de Blasio’s recently announced citywide ferry plan is not a brand-new proposal. New York City first had a ferry system four centuries ago.