By Kelsey Durham
Residents gathered in Rockaway Beach last weekend to protest the city’s decision to eliminate funding for the Rockaway Ferry in the 2015 budget and to urge citizens and elected officials to fight to save the service.
A group of about 15 people held signs reading “Keep the Rockaway Ferry” as they stood on the corner of Beach 90 Street and Shore Front Parkway Saturday morning, sending their message to drivers passing in their cars and beach-goers making their way down to the water.
The group could also be heard from several blocks away chanting phrases such as “Rockaway Ferry forever” as they expressed concerns over Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council’s decision to stop funding the ferry later this year.
The $75 billion budget for next year includes $2 million to keep the ferry running until October, but no money was allocated to continue service after that.
Although several elected officials said they were dismayed by the discontinuance, all but one of Queens’ City Council members voted in favor of the budget, including City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) was the sole legislator to abstain from voting on the fiscal plan.
Under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s direction, the city Economic Development Corp. put out a request for proposals in February to operate the Rockaway ferry route for five years. But the EDC has not outlined its time line for selecting a proposal and inking a contract, which means boats are currently slated to be docked indefinitely this October.
“It’s unfair,” said Catherine O’Connor, a 10-year resident of Rockaway Beach who said the ferry is necessary for many people to get to work in Manhattan every day. “We’re taxpayers out here, too, and this is an important thing for our economy, our stores, our restaurants. Aren’t we entitled to any benefits?”
John Cori, a member of Friends of Rockaway Beach who has lived in the neighborhood his entire 50-year life, said it costs about $5 million to run the ferry for one year, some of which is paid for by the $3.50 cost to ride the boat.
He said the neighborhoods that make up the community of the Rockaways have embraced the ferry, which was instituted after Superstorm Sandy hit the area in 2012 and maintained after A train repairs because of high demand. Cori said the ferry has become a major effect on things such as business and property values.
“It’s this amazing thing that we’re now being shafted on, like everything else,” Cori said. “Five million dollars is a drop in the bucket compared to the $75 billion budget. The ferry is important for spurring economic growth here because people are more likely to commit to moving here if there’s transportation.”
Many protesters at Saturday’s rally made mention of the fact that the Staten Island Ferry serves a similar purpose as the one in Rockaway and said it was unfair to cut funding for the one in Queens. The rally planned for last weekend was one way residents said they plan to spread the word to the rest of the city about how important the Rockaway Ferry is to their community.
Philip McManus, representing the Rockaway United to Save the Ferry and the Queens Public Transit Committee, said he and other homeowners plan to keep the pressure on city officials to make sure they understand how much the community needs funding for the ferry.
“After Sandy, a lot of people said ‘Enough is enough,’” he said. “We need to fight for a better city, and Rockaway is a part of that city. There’s no doubt we need this.”
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.