By Alex Davidson
In what borough politicians are hoping is the prelude to a permanent commuter ferry service, a private ferry company unveiled Friday a summer recreational route that will carry passengers between the Rockaways and Manhattan.
New York Waterway previewed its new weekend route to Jacob Riis Park on the southeast Queens peninsula that will run from ferry terminals on East 34th Street in Midtown and South Street Seaport in Downtown. Adult passengers will have to pay $26 and children will be charged $13 for round-trip service.
“This is the first of many baby steps in bringing a ferry to the Rockaways,” U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) said. “We are going to learn a couple of things here.”
Weiner, who is spearheading the multimillion-dollar rejuvenation of Gateway National Recreation Area amid speculation that he is mulling a mayoral bid in 2006, said he hopes the new ferry service will begin to foster a demand among southeast Queens residents for ferries taking them to Manhattan.
Weiner said ferries are the most efficient means of transport between the two boroughs, with a journey of only 40 minutes, compared to subway, car and bus services that each can endure for at least an hour.
He warned, however, against critics who might say setting up a ferry network between the Rockaway peninsula and Manhattan is unnecessary.
“We have to be careful not to draw too many conclusions,” he said.
Instead, Weiner said, the new ferry service will afford the opportunity to see the actual, real cost of operating a consistent water transport system between the two boroughs.
Weiner was joined at the preview by Borough President Helen Marshall, City Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway).
The ferry service will run from Saturday, June 14, through Labor Day, Sept. 1. The service will depart on weekends at 9 a.m. from East 34th Street, pick up passengers at 9:30 a.m. from Pier 17 at South Street Seaport and arrive at Riis Park at 10:15 a.m. Passengers will be welcomed by a National Parks Ranger who will accompany them aboard the free shuttle bus to point out areas of interest.
The second departure from Manhattan will go from South Street Seaport at 11:30 a.m., arriving at Riis Park at 12:15 p.m.
The return ferry leaves Riis Park at 4:30 p.m. and arrives in lower Manhattan at 5:15 p.m. and in Midtown at 5:45 p.m. A second ferry will leave Riis Park at 6:30 p.m. and arrive at South Street Seaport at 7:15 p.m. and East 34th Street at 7:45 p.m.
Passengers who want to travel only to Manhattan can board the ferry leaving Riis Park at 10:15 a.m. that will arrive in lower Manhattan at 11:30 p.m. The return ferry to Riis Park will leave South Street Seaport at 5:15 p.m. and Midtown at 5:45 p.m.
The cost for Manhattan-bound passengers will be $13 for adults, $11 for seniors, and $6.50 for children, each way.
Elected officials said they hope the ferry will spark an increase in summer tourism to the area and establish water transport as a viable alternative to reach the Rockaways rather than through auto traffic and subways.
Marshall said local politicians have been working for years on getting some form of ferry service between the Rockaways and Manhattan. She said she enjoyed the 40-minute ride that passed by the Statue of Liberty on its way to southeast Queens.
“This is the first real breakthrough,” said Marshall, who added that the ferry will be a success. “It has got to be, we cannot stop here.”
Pheffer, who said she has been working with other elected officials to find state money for a permanent ferry, said the pending state and city budget deficits could make it difficult to fund a possible permanent route.
She said, however, that the search for funds will continue and could be found in federal grants.
“This should have been going on for years,” Pheffer said. “People just need to start thinking that something like this is possible.”
The new summer ferry route is the result of a partnership among the NY Waterway, the National Park Service, The National Park Foundation and Ford Motor Co., which will sponsor a free bus to ferry riders around Gateway to attractions such as Riis Park, Fort Tilden and Floyd Bennett Field.
Addabbo said the new summer ferry's success depends on how many people ride it during the next few months. He said although the cost of the ferry is high, it makes up for that by offering a time-saving form of transport that is guaranteed to avoid any traffic jams.
“Now that we have it, we hope it gets used,” he said.
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.