Under two big white awnings that shade a bayside pier at Beach Channel Drive and Beach 108th Street, dozens of people lined up to prepare to board a Seastreak boat. Some were dressed in short shorts and tank tops — casual attire for a hot June day; others were in suits, carrying satchels and scrolling through emails on their smartphones as they stepped on board the craft.
Forty-six minutes after the boat left the dock in the Rockaways, it was at Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan and the Rockaway denizens who paid the $2 fare to get on the boat, disembarked in the heart of New York City.
Among them was Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) who with a number of Rockaway civic leaders took the ferry to City Hall to deliver 3,000 petitions from Rockaway residents asking to make the ferry service permanent.
Seastreak, which runs ferry routes from Manhattan to New Jersey and, during summer weekends, Martha’s Vineyard, has been providing service to the Rockaways since shortly after Hurricane Sandy to make up for the loss of the A subway. The storm washed out the A-train tracks over Jamaica Bay, shutting the line down until about five weeks ago.
In the meantime the ferry — which had long been on the want list for many on the peninsula — has become quite popular. At least 100 cars were parked in the free lot across from the dock by the time the 9:20 a.m. ferry — the last of the morning boats bound for Pier 11 — left, but they only represent a fraction of those who take the ferry. Many more ride bikes or carpool to the dock.
Marguerite Bedway has taken the ferry numerous times. The Rockaway Park resident chose to sit on the boat’s open upper deck during last Friday’s trip, sipping a soda and eyeing the rides at Coney Island as the boat passed the Brooklyn neighborhood.
“It’s great, I hope they keep it,” Bedway said. “It’s quicker and there is a lot nicer of a view.”
Pat Hickey, who works at a courthouse in Manhattan, takes the ferry to work every day and dreads the idea of having to ride the A train once the ferry stops.
“They have to keep it,” Hickey, who used to drive to Staten Island every day, said. “It’s so much faster and such a pleasant ride.”
Goldfeder delivered the petitions to Bloomberg’s office directly and was joined by Danny Ruscillo, president of the 100th Precinct Community Council; Hank Iori, president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association; Rockaway resident Phil McManus; and transportation advocate Ronald Carroll on the ferry trip and at a press conference on the steps of City Hall Friday morning.
“This is just common sense,” Ruscillo said. “We need more transportation options and this ferry service has been a big hit.”
Goldfeder said the amount of economic activity the ferry would create would make up for the amount the city would have to subsidize. The ferry costs about $500,000 a month to run; the city’s chunk depends on fares.
Bloomberg announced Tuesday that the ferry will be extended until Labor Day. There are only three boats on weekday mornings and three on weekday afternoons. Weekend service operates, but costs $15.
Goldfeder praised Seastreak’s service, but noted that other companies may be interested in any permanent service. He said the city may have to put out a Request for Proposals for a permanent contractor.
Rockaway had a ferry service in 2009 that shut down after several months. Goldfeder said that service was too expensive and service was not very good. The city put in $1.5 million into that service.
Goldfeder acknowledged that the MTA did a good job bringing the A-train back and the ferry was not a replacement for it.
“It’s just good to have options,” he said, noting that he’s still firmly behind reactivating the Rockaway Beach LIRR line. “And the ferry is a quicker option for many.”
After the press conference, Goldfeder, Ruscillo, Iori, McManus and Carroll returned to Rockaway via the A train and arrived back at the ferry terminal — an hour and 12 minutes later, nearly a half-hour longer than the ferry ride took.