DOT pulls plug on ferry to Rockaways

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The city said it is shutting down the Rockaway ferry this month for what it concluded was a failing experiment, but community leaders are chastising the mayor and the city Department of Transportation for not giving the little commuter boat that could a chance to shine.

The DOT said the ferry will take its last ride March 19 following its two-year pilot run. The service ran out of its $1.8 million City Council funding that subsidized the program, the city’s Economic Development Corporation said.

Low ridership and revenue from fares also contributed to the end of service, according to EDC.

The ferry’s advocates, however, contend the city cheated commuters from the start by not operating the ferry to its fullest potential or giving it the financial backing like the Staten Island Ferry, which is free and receives subsidies from the city.

“The way it was set up it was funded to fail,” said Jonathan Gaska, district manager for Community Board 14, which covers the Rockaways.

The ferry began service two years ago as a pilot program for the DOT with much fanfare from the community, which had asked for a new commuting option. The single boat service, which costs riders anywhere from a $6 one-way ticket to a $216 40-trip booklet, makes stops from Riis Landing to the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Pier 11 in southern Manhattan.

Gaska said commuters did not have a problem with the price — rather it was the ferry’s poor schedule that caused some difficulties. The boat departed from the Rockaways at 5:45 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. and left Manhattan at 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

With only one boat and no service for half of the day, some residents were stuck with the one hour and 15 minute ride on the A train or using a car, according to the district manager.

“People from Nassau County can get into Manhattan quicker on mass transit than Rockaway, Queens, and that’s not fair,” he said.

State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) said the pilot was not long enough to adequately analyze the feasibility of the service for Rockaway residents.

“There were a lot of concerns and we felt the experiment was not long enough. The government never met with the community or the commuters to find out how it was doing,” she said.

Pheffer said the ferry is an underused transportation option for the area not only because it is faster for residents but also because it gives commuters a more pleasant ride to their Manhattan destination.

“I think it’s a form of transportation that has to be expanded,” she said.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Rockaway Beach) also expressed outrage over the city’s decision to permanently anchor the ferry and he pushed the city to try to find ways to bring it back.

“Any reduction or elimination of this service, especially on such short notice, is a direct slap in the face to the Rockaway community. We need to expand ferry service, not end it,” the councilman said in a statement.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 5:49 pm, October 10, 2011
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