The city has delivered a slap in the face to Rockaway residents, who have relied on the ferry as an alternative to the longest public transit commute in the country on the A train and buses immobilized on clogged highways.
As City Council members congratulated themselves last month on reaching a budget accord before the deadline, there was something vital to Queens missing in the final $75 billion tally for the city.
No provision was made to extend the Rockaway Ferry beyond October despite despite lobbying efforts by several elected officials in the borough. Nor was there any explanation from City Hall as to why the ferry was left out of the calculations.
There have been half-hearted attempts over the years to offer summer ferry service to the Rockaways to draw beach-goers. But the latest incarnation of the Rockaway Ferry was born out of necessity when Hurricane Sandy destroyed parts of the A train tracks leading to the peninsula.
And the Rockaways, where many of its 115,000 residents are still struggling to recover from Sandy, have embraced the ferry. Ridership remained strong to Manhattan and Brooklyn even after the A train starting rolling to the Rockaways again.
The outcry from elected officials who represent the area has been surprisingly muted. All but one of Queens’ Council members voted for the budget, including Eric Ulrich, whose district reaches into the Rockaways.
Is the city hoping that the federal government might sweep in and pick up some of the tab for the ferry, which costs an estimated $5 million a year to run? The $3.50 fare covers only some of the operating expenses for trips from the Rockaways to Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The city Economic Development Corp. has also been tight-lipped about the ferry. In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the EDC to put out a request for proposals to operate the route for five years, but the agency has been mum about when it might select a bidder.
State Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder, who represents Far Rockaway, said several groups had submitted plans to the EDC before the budget ax fell. The East River ferries have bigger ridership, but the Rockaway Ferry must not be the neglected stepchild.
The peninsula’s economic recovery from Sandy’s devastating destruction depends on reliable and affordable public transit. Rockaway residents are taxpayers like everyone else in Queens, and they should be told why funding was eliminated for one of their few lifelines to the rest of the city.
©2014 Community News Group
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