NYC Ferry launches in Rockaway with celebration from residents

The NYC Ferry service launched on Monday, May 1, 2017.
The NYC Ferry service launched on Monday, May 1, 2017. Photo Credit: Amazon

It’s back.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s NYC Ferry service launched its Rockaway route on Monday morning. After the city discontinued ferry service from the Queens neighborhood in 2014, its return was reason to celebrate.

Residents packed on the first boat for a 5:30 a.m. maiden voyage. They took pictures of their tickets and cheered as the first ferry set sail.

“It’s more of a pleasure cruise for me,” said Jim McHugh, 80, a retired city firefighter and Navy veteran who purchased the first ticket for the service. “People were devastated when service was discontinued. This is a more direct way to Manhattan.”

Rockaway is the first of five new NYC Ferry routes coming by the end of 2018. Two more routes, the Astoria and South Brooklyn, are expected to launch later this summer. NYC Ferry also absorbed the pre-existing East River route beginning Monday.

“Not only is it a fast and efficient way to get to work, but it’s also reliable. So that means when the A train is out, the ferry service is still going to be running,” said James Patchett, the president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, who rode the first boat with passengers Monday. The EDC is overseeing the new service, which is operated by Hornblower.

As of 6:15 p.m. Monday, NYC Ferry had offered about 6,200 total rides, the EDC said, with 1,700 passengers served on the new Rockaway route, 4,500 on the East River.

Rockaway residents became ferry advocates after superstorm Sandy devastated the area in October 2012 and badly damaged the infrastructure for the A train, which serves the neighborhood. The city at the time was subsidizing a ferry route to Manhattan that proved popular, but high costs led to its demise.

This time around, de Blasio is heralding the service as a solution to the city’s traffic congestion. He has committed $325 million to bring the routes, with 20 brand-new white and blue ferries, to New York Harbor. Another $30 million from taxpayers will be kicked in for annual operating costs.

“It’s wonderful,” said Margie Henderson, a Breezy Point resident who decided to celebrate her 80th birthday by taking the inaugural boat from Rockaway before enjoying a birthday breakfast on land. “I’m just so happy and grateful.”

Single rides cost $2.75. A monthly pass is $121. While priced at the same rate of the MTA’s MetroCard, NYC Ferry service will not be integrated with the state-run MTA. There won’t be free transfers to and from buses or trains.

“That’s the only con for me,” said John Howley, 31, a hotel manager from Rockaway, who said he was willing to pay a little extra for his commute to work if it meant avoiding the stresses of subway delays and transfers.

“The A train ride all the way out to Rockaway gets long,” said Howley, who will try to make a combination of NYC Ferry service and Citi Bike work for his commute to midtown Manhattan.

Claire Van Winkle, founder of the Rockaway Writers Workshop, was on board passing out nautical-themed poetry during the hourlong trip from Rockaway to Wall Street.

“Rockaway is a beautiful pace to live and a wonderful place to visit, but the only thing keeping us isolated is the two hours commuters must spend on the subway,” she said. “I feel like Rockaway has finally had its voice heard.”

Ferry service launched ahead of schedule in what was a mad dash of building and delivering boats. Some evidence of that rush lingered Monday morning, as Wi-Fi was not yet working on board.

The Coast Guard is still processing the paperwork to approve the name of the boat that carried the first NYC Ferry riders, the Urban Journey — one of the monikers chosen by city second-graders. Instead, the vessel was officially referred to by its hull identification number, 102.

De Blasio was at the pier near Wall Street to greet Rockaway commuters docking at 8:30 a.m. He shook hands, posed for selfies and asked how riders’ trips went.

“It was great, no traffic!” a woman yelled.