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BY SAM SPOKONY | A group of Queens residents are calling on the city to continue a ferry service linking the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan, and to expand it to include weekend service this summer.
The Rockaway Ferry, which was launched by the city in November 2012 as an emergency transportation measure after Hurricane Sandy damaged the A train subway serving southern Queens, has grown to become a key fixture in the recovery of that waterfront area, which was devastated by the storm. Now operated by the Seastreak ferry company, the city has extended the temporary service four times in response to the high demand that has seen it carry more than 200,000 passengers since it began.
The service, which costs $3.50 per trip, runs from Beach 108th St. in the Rockaways to Manhattan’s Pier 11 near South and Wall Sts., with a stop in between at Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. Along with providing a more scenic route, the ferry’s 45-minute trip, from start to finish, is twice as fast as the now-repaired A train’s average of 90 minutes for the same journey.
Mayor Bill de Blasio most recently announced an extension of the service shortly after taking office in January, agreeing to keep it going through April 31. The mayor also provided an option to additionally extend it until August, pending responses to a Request for Proposals, or R.F.P., issued in February by the city’s Economic Development Corporation in order to determine the potential for longterm operation.
Hank Iori, a Queens resident and president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, which has advocated for continued ferry service said he believes it will in fact continue, not only up to August but through the summer.
“We’ve gotten some promising comments from the mayor’s office that it’ll be extended into the summer, so we feel that it’s very likely it will keep going,” Iori told Downtown Express.
A spokesperson for the mayor said his administration is currently reviewing the viability of such continued service, while stressing that keeping the ferry active requires a very high subsidy of $25 to $30 per rider.
But a key issue now, for Iori and his group, is the fact that the ferry currently only operates on weekdays — and the R.F.P. put out by the city only required proposals for weekday service.
The Queens residents are calling for weekend Rockaway Ferry service this summer — from May 31 to Sept. 7 — asserting it will further aid in post-Sandy revitalization of their beaches and local businesses, as well as those in Lower Manhattan (minus the beaches), like the still-recovering shops and eateries around the South Street Seaport.
“I feel like many people in Lower Manhattan aren’t yet aware that this ferry even exists, but it’s such a mutually beneficial service for our communities, and weekend service would make that connection even stronger,” said Iori, adding that, along with the obvious weekday use for commuting to work, many of his neighbors already utilize the ferry just to come to Manhattan for dinner on a weekday evening.
“[Weekend service] would definitely improve commerce and tourism,” he said, “and it’ll really help to show the world that we’re back after the storm, growing bigger, better and stronger, through collaboration and creative thinking.”
An online petition created by the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, urging the mayor to include weekend service, gained 1,463 signatures as of press time — the vast majority from southern Queens residents, but also some from those in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.
In her response to a question about the potential for weekend service, the de Blasio spokesperson didn’t directly comment on that issue. But an E.D.C. spokesperson said the city is aware of the residents’ petition.