Rockaway officials and residents are furious that the $75 billion budget approved by the City Council last week does not include funding for permanent ferry service connecting the area to Manhattan, setting off a battle between City Hall and the distant peninsula over the popular, but pricey, service that began after Hurricane Sandy.
“Although the Rockaway ferry service was not included in the final city budget, our community will not give up the fight,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park). “I am severely disappointed in Mayor de Blasio and the Economic Development Corporation for ignoring the transit needs of southern Queens and Rockaway families. Like every other borough in the city, we deserve an affordable, efficient and reliable means of transportation. The ferry has been a lifeline for our families and small businesses after the devastation caused by Sandy and it must remain permanent.”
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said he believes the fight for a permanent ferry is not over, but was nevertheless disappointed.
“I believe in a budget of $75 billion, the city can find the fractional money needed to keep the ferry afloat permanently,” Addabbo said.
Borough President Melinda Katz noted that Rockaway residents already have limited access to transportation, and must pay a toll to get off the peninsula. She further noted that Brooklyn and Manhattan have multiple ferry stops and more transportation options than the Rockaways, which has only the A train — a ride that takes more than an hour to Manhattan — and three express bus routes that could take even longer.
“I never argue to limit anyone’s access to ferry service, but I believe Queens needs equity,” she said.
Last month Katz sent de Blasio a letter in support of the Rockaway service, signed by all five borough presidents.
The ferry, operated by Seastreak, is due to continue through October through money allocated by Mayor de Blasio in his executive budget, but beyond that no extension of service is funded.
The service began as a temporary arrangement after Sandy to replace the A train, which was shut down for seven months after the storm due to the destruction of the tracks over Jamaica Bay. It was extended multiple times and residents and officials on the peninsula said the service has become popular for commuters seeking an alternative route to Manhattan.
It connects Beach 108th Street with Wall Street, with a stop in Sunset Park, Brooklyn that was added after the MTA shut down the R train’s Montague Street Tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn that was damaged in Sandy.
Kate Blumm, a spokeswoman for the EDC, said the service, which currently costs $3.50 for a one-way ride, is fully funded through October and the city would continue to look for dedicated funding.
“As part of the Mayor’s Executive Budget, the City added funding for a fourth service extension to allow operation through October, supporting both Rockaway commuters and Brooklyn residents during the R train outage,” Blumm said in an email. “We will continue to examine ridership and seek a sustainable funding stream that can support the $25 to $30 subsidy per trip — the highest by far of any public transportation in the city.”
But Rockaway residents and advocates for the ferry say the cost is worth it.
“New York City is surrounded by water and we need to expand service throughout our city,” said Phil McManus, a Rockaway resident and transportation advocate. “We need the ferry to provide emergency transportation during a crisis.
Joe Hartigan, also a Rockaway resident and transportation advocate, says the ferry is a boon not only for the Rockaways, but also for the rest of South Queens, including Howard Beach.
He noted that it could be a viable connection to other parts of the city, including Staten Island, where a new outlet mall and the world’s largest Ferris wheel are to be constructed.
“It would cost less to drive to Rockaway, park and take the ferry to Staten Island than it would to cross the [Verrazzano] Bridge,” noted Hartigan, who has supported expanding ferry service elsewhere in the borough, including to College Point, Bayside and JFK Airport.
In the meantime, Rockaway residents are seeking to organize to show City Hall just how important the ferry is.
“We need a free bus connector from Far Rockaway and Breezy Point and to encourage car pooling to the ferry,” McManus said. “The Q22, Q35 and Q53 should all be rerouted to connect to the ferry schedule.”
He also called on local businesses to promote themselves and the ferry to communities outside the Rockaways.
“We have till October,” he said. “You never know maybe we can get another extension or make it permanent later on.”