Readers Write: Waterways are an underutilized asset

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Our waterways are an underutilized natural asset that can offer significant transportation alternatives for thousands of New Yorkers. 

“Earth Matters” New York City ferries support climate resilience” (Julianne Saary-Littman – Nov. 1). Most public transportation and roadways are operating at or above capacity. New ferry services can be implemented more quickly than construction of new subway, commuter rail or highways.

These can take years or even decades until completion of environmental reviews, planning, design, engineering, real estate acquisition, permits, procurements and construction before reaching beneficial use.

Completing all of the above, along with finding funding for ferry boats, docks and parking with costs in the millions is easier than finding the billions of dollars for construction of new or extended subway, commuter rail or highways. Utilization of ferry boats equipped with fuel-efficient engines can make a positive contribution to air quality.

Prior to the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964, there was ferry service from the Bay Ridge, Brooklyn 69th Street pier to the St. George, Staten Island Ferry Terminal with connections to the Whitehall Street, Manhattan Ferry Terminal

In April 1967, the old Jersey Central Rail Road ended ferry service between Liberty Street and Pavonia, New Jersey. Later that year, in November 1967, the old Erie Lackawana Rail Road suspended ferry service between Barclay Street and Hoboken. Fast forward to today. Thousands of New Jersey daily commuters use ferries from Hoboken or Weehawkeen to the downtown World Financial Center, Pier 79 West 38th Street or Pier 11 Wall Street Ferry Terminals. 

There are also 66,000 daily patrons of the Staten Island Ferry System which connects St. George, Staten Island with the Manhattan Whitehall Street Ferry Terminal. Unlike the other four boroughs, 500,000 Richmond County residents have no direct subway or commuter rail system linking them with the rest of New York City.

Thousands of riders on a daily basis utilize ferries sponsored by the NYC Economic Development Corporation Private Ferry operators program.  They connect various waterfront neighborhoods including Soundview in the Bronx,  Astoria, Long Island City, Roosevelt Island and the Rockaways in Queens, East 79th Street, East 34th Street, Pier 11 Wall Street and Governors Island in Manhattan along with Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Army Terminal and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn. 

New services are anticipated to start from the Staten Island South Shore and other locations around the Big Apple in coming years.

NYC can also apply for capital grants from the State Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration to assist in funding. Albany also provides State Transportation Operating Assistance.  

Ridership on any transit service generates yearly federal transportation capital assistance. Numerous past private ferry operators have come and gone. They could not financially survive based upon farebox revenue alone without government subsidy. MTA bus, subway and commuter rail along with NYC Department of Transportation Staten Island Ferry is subsidized by a combination of City, State and Federal assistance for both capital and operating costs.

All new ferry services will require similar subsidies if they are to survive.    

The City of Glen Cove is attempting to jump start their own ferry service to midtown and downtown Manhattan.  Why not work with NYC EDC to add intermediate stops in Queens including Bayside Fort Totten, College Point, Flushing Marina, LaGuardia Airport and Long Island City.  This could generate significant additional riders resulting in a more financially viable operation.

Farebox recovery rates vary based upon the trip, route and time of day.  Any rush-hour local or express bus, subway, ferry or LIRR trip carries more riders than mid-day, evening, overnight or weekends.  Rush hour trips tend to have a better fare box recovery rate and require less subsidy than other times of day and night.  There is always a fixed cost per hour for any mode of transportation.  This includes equipment (bus, subway car, train or ferry purchase) straight-line depreciation of equipment over time and mileage, driver, engineer or ferry boat captain’s salary, conductors, ticket takers, deckhands, fuel or power and maintenance of equipment.  

Mayor de Blasio still needs to convince the MTA Board to support his fare structure of $2.75 per ride to also include cross-honoring a free transfer to a bus or subway using the current MTA Metro Card.  

Riders could purchase weekly or monthly passes for discounted fares. These could be supplemented by using Transit Checks which will further reduce the cost per ride.    

Who would not want to enjoy the fresh air and breeze that only waterborne transportation can provide. Riding a ferry can be less stressful than being packed in a subway car like sardines in a can.

Larry Penner

Great Neck

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