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Refine Rockaway ferry statistics: Melinda Katz

By Sarina Trangle

Rockaway ferry ridership statistics need a fairer reading, according to the borough president.

Borough President Melinda Katz asked the mayor to add weekend ferry trips and extend service through summer 2015 so more accurate passenger assessments can be factored into decisions about the boats’ future.

Her Aug. 1 memo to Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that current statistics were likely low-balling the route because weekend trips were not offered during the beach season.

“It is difficult to assess ridership when the city has decreased the opportunity for the ferry to be used,” Katz wrote. “Making the ferry available to riders on the weekend opens the Rockaways up to new avenues of much-needed tourism to the area’s beaches, business and cultural events.”

De Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said finances did not make a strong case for the ferry.

“We have enabled a further opportunity this summer to see if the economics on the ground change in a way that would make long-term service viable. But barring an extraordinary increase in ridership, this service is just not sustainable,” Novell said.

The borough president’s letter came two months after the city adopted a budget with only enough funding to keep ferries traveling from Beach 108th Street to the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Manhattan through October.

The city Economic Development Corp. put out requests for proposals to operate the route for five years, but has not outlined the timeline for selecting a plan.

The peninsula embraced the latest round of ferry service after it was introduced when the A train was damaged in Hurricane Sandy and many rallied for the city to find the $5 million estimated annual cost of the route in the $75 billion budget.

The EDC cautioned its efforts to continue the service may not succeed because of its high cost.

In a July 18 e-mail, EDC President Kyle Kimball said some 400 people board each boat, which translates into a roughly $3.50 fee per passenger and a nearly $30 city subsidy per person.

Kimball noted other ferries require less city financing — the East River route has a $2.22 subsidy per passenger and the Staten Island Ferry $4.86.

But Danny Ruscillo, co-chairman of Community Board 14’s Transportation Committee, said Rockaway residents’ taxes help ferry some 20 million people to and from Staten Island each year.

“We, the taxpayers, are footing the bill. Yes, Staten Island should have ferry service, but so should Rockaway, Brooklyn, Broad Channel and Breezy Point,” he said.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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