By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio kept his promise to the Rockaways, launching NYC Ferry service from 108th Street early Monday morning, a month ahead of schedule.
For nearly a quarter century, Rockaway resident Joe Hartigan has advocated for permanent ferry service to the peninsula in order to slash the longest commute times in the city and bring an economic benefit to the community.
“I talked with the mayor and I thanked him for keeping his word and for making the biggest investment in the Rockaways I’ve ever seen,” Hartigan said. “And that’s coming from a registered Republican.”
Hartigan was on board the “Urban Journey” as the vessel departed the new ferry landing at Beach 108th for its maiden voyage at 5:30 a.m. Less than an hour later, de Blasio greeted nearly a hundred passengers as it arrived at Wall Street’s Pier 11.
“I told the mayor I couldn’t wait to compare this summer’s credit card receipts in Rockaway to the last two summers,” Hartigan said. “I’m telling you, this is going to be like Christmas all summer long down here. At $2.75 a ride, how could you not come down to Rockaway and shop at the stores, eat at our restaurants and go for a dip. Heck, this is the cheapest date in New York City and the ride is the best part. It’s beautiful, and I think it’s going to have a deep impact on the Rockaways.”
State Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Beach) and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) were also aboard that first ferry and shared Hartigan’s enthusiasm.
“Today, I witnessed what many Rockaway residents thought might never happen — a credible commuter ferry run to Manhattan,” Addabbo said. “This day has been a long time coming. The introduction of this service will give residents and commuters improved, reliable transit options, taking them to-and-from Rockaway Beach, Brooklyn Army Terminal and Wall Street’s Pier 11. The ferry will finally link the rest of New York City to Rockaway, so that visitors can experience all the benefits the peninsula has to offer.”
After Hurricane Sandy devastated the peninsula in October 2012, cutting A train service for more than a year and leaving 35,000 daily customers without a direct link to Manhattan, the Bloomberg administration launched a subsidized ferry service in May 2012. But that came to an end in the first year of the de Blasio administration as ridership numbers failed to justify the cost of more than $20 per rider.
“This ferry is exactly what we’ve needed to give Rockaway residents something approaching a normal commute,” Pheffer Amato said. “To get that commute in speed and style a month early? We’re over the moon. We’re glad the city is finally connecting South Queens to the rest of New York City in a workable way. This is a great day and it was so great to take the first ride with my neighbors.”
The ferry is expected to reduce commuting times for South Queens residents by up to an hour.
The two elected officials talked with crew members, employees and fellow riders. They sampled the full-service concession stand, and even led a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for one of the passengers.
“This is the most exciting day I’ve had in a while,” Pheffer Amato said.
“It’s an amazing day for the Rockaway peninsula community and for New York City, to see all the hard work and dedication to this fight for better transportation options finally come to fruition.”
Borough President Melinda Katz said the new ferry service will be a “huge boost” for the Rockaway economy.
“When you have permanency in a ferry, it means predictability for the Rockaways,” Katz said. “It means that stores can predict the number of folks coming in and out. It means that we can create jobs based on the predictability of a permanent ferry. It means that families who move out of the Rockways know that they are going to be able to get in and out and work with the ferry every single day for years to come. That predictability will be a huge boost for the Rockaways.”
Hartigan has been watching at the 108th Street landing as passengers disembark this week.
“Each boat that arrives, 50 to 100 people come off,” he said. “The first group I saw had tourists, four from Sweden, two from France and one from Britain, and that was on day one. I told my wife I’m ordering a T-shirt from Jaws that shows Roy Scheider saying ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat.’”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr