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City extends Rockaway ferry

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Sarina Trangle

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to study whether a permanent Rockaway ferry route is financially feasible has residents of the peninsula fantasizing about a boat-fueled revival.

Joe Hartigan, a retired FDNY lieutenant, said he has been advocating for ferry service in the Rockaways for five decades because he believes long subway commutes have led many to abandon the peninsula. He said the roughly 38-minute commute from Rockaway to Wall Street by boat could attract residents from upwardly mobile neighborhoods.

“If the ferry stays, it could be better than Harlem and Hoboken combined,” Hartigan said. “I’m also trying to get it into Kennedy Airport so it won’t have to be heavily subsidized.”

De Blasio’s administration announced Tuesday that weekday ferry service between the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan would continue until May, with the city having the option to extend the arrangement until August. The one-way fare will increase from $2 to $3.50.

The mayor said the city Economic Development Corp. would issue a request for proposals next month to determine whether a long-term ferry service contract is affordable.

“We are committed to the Rockaways’ recovery. From accelerating rebuilding programs to today’s ferry extension, we are going to keep our focus on communities hit hard by Sandy to ensure no one is left behind,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The city instituted ferry service from the Rockaway Peninsula to Pier 11 at 34th Street in Manhattan when the A train underwent post-Superstorm Sandy repairs in 2012.

The ferry operator, Seastreak LLC, later began stopping at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park.

Officials previously opted to extend the ferry service three times because ridership was high.

State Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach) said about 800 riders took the ferry daily this December and ridership practically doubled during the summer.

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to have ferry service for a long, long time,” Goldfeder said. “The new mayor and borough president are essentially putting their money where their mouth is. They talked about working for the outerboroughs and today’s extension proved they are willing to do what it takes.”

Phil McManus, a Rockaway resident who founded the Queens Public Transit Committee, and others who joined the Committee to Save the Rockaway Ferry said they were thrilled by the mayor’s announcement, which came hours before they planned to stage a rally demanding the service’s extension.

“There might be a thank you rally,” McManus said.

He said a more permanent ferry plan would spur economic development, with merchants feeling confident enough to open new businesses, families seeking to invest in real estate and job seekers enjoying access to a quick commute.

Hartigan said he calculated roughly 10 million people travel from JFK to Wall Street and close to 7 million commute from LaGuardia Airport to Lower Manhattan every year.

He contended that having various routes connect the Queens airports, Willets Point, Astoria, Wall Street, Staten Island and the Rockaways would generate more funding for the service.

“The South Ferry Subway Station renovation was $500 million after Sandy, add another $600 million in damages for a grand total of $1.1 billion for one train station,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I could purchase over 220 ferry boats for that same price.”

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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