Group floats expansion of NYC ferries
With trains as crowded as ever and commuting by car a nightmare, one group yesterday called for the city to let New Yorkers take to the seas.
Metropolitan Waterway Alliance's Roland Lewis, in a meeting with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, touted the city's "God-given waterway" as a travel alternative in transit-starved neighborhoods and during an emergency on the scale of Superstorm Sandy.
"We have an overburdened, congested transit system," Lewis said. "You have to build a dock, but the transit system is there for us to use on our rivers and through the harbor."
The Bloomberg administration and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in 2008 unveiled a plan that envisioned ferry service to all five boroughs.
In addition to the Staten Island Ferry, there are city-subsidized ferries servicing the East River and residents of the Rockaways and Sunset Park. The other commuter ferries that go to Manhattan serve New Jersey riders.
"I'm just hoping that the city will continue to try pilot projects," Lewis said. "Try it with the ingredients for success in a robust way and see what kind of market develops in these areas."
Bill de Blasio, the frontrunner for mayor, has said he would seek federal support to expand the ferry system as a way to improve outerborough transportation. A spokeswoman for Joe Lhota did not respond to a request for comment.
With waterfront development growing, the Metropolitan Waterway Alliance identified 43 sites where commuter ferry service can operate, like Soundview and the South Shore of Staten Island.
"It's a good bargain," Lewis said.
The city Economic Development Corp said the subsidy on the East River ferry is $2.25 per passenger. Building new ferry landing costs between $5 and $8 million, according to the Metropolitan Waterway Alliance.
And while poor ridership figures can sink a ferry route, the East River ferry has exceeded EDC projections, transporting more than 150,000 riders in September. Meanwhile, the Rockaway ferry instituted after Sandy has been extended to January.
But there are barriers to a network of waterways that can rival regular transit. MetroCards cannot be used to pay ferry fares and there are few trains and buses that reach the waterfront.
Jeffrey Zupan, senior fellow for transportation Regional Plan Association, said inaccessible ferry landings for an expensive trip to a waterfront that is far from job hubs can hinder a robust system.
"Ferry service is a niche. And as a niche there are places where it might work well but they're few and far between," Zupan said. "And most of them that have succeeded are in place."