Congressman Weiner Floats Ferry Hopes

If the last year hasn’t persuaded you that we need to start using ferries more in New York, you haven’t been paying attention.

Each transit emergency – the Roosevelt Island tram, the crippling transit worker strike, the terrorist attack against London’s underground, the track fire that knocked out major parts of the A and C train service - reminds us that we need to begin to do what practically every other water borne major city has done – get on the boats.  A fleet of ferries and a collection of landings would provide redundancy and security on bad days and ease traffic and smog everyday.

Ok, we get the message.  Now let’s act.

1. The Feds Are Offering $15 million to Buy Ferries – Take it:  The recently passed federal transportation bill has $15 million I sought for the city to buy ferries.  This is enough to buy three fast ferries for service to Rockaway, Bay Ridge, Lower Manhattan and other places.  The city should see this as seed money to grow a new service.

2. Establish a Ferry Czar: Any successful ferry plan will require the coordination of a large number of organizations from the private owners of docks and piers in the city, private ferry operators, the City Parks Department, the National Parks Service, the Port Authority, the MTA, and the Coast Guard. Ferries should be under the control of the city, not the state, so the mayor should appoint one person to report directly to him and expedite the process of getting all these organizations to work together.

3. Treat Ferries As What They Are - Floating Buses: Depending on the route it would cost around $550 dollars an hour for a private operator to run private ferry lines in and around the city. For ferries to become a viable option for commuters, fares must be kept around the same as subway and bus fare. Every time a straphanger gets on the PATH train, the Port Authority gets a $1.49 operating subsidy. And the MTA gets a $1.09 subsidy per bus rider and a $0.40 subsidy per subway rider. The playing field should be even and the only way that’s possible is if the city, the MTA, or the Port Authority subsidizes ferry operations.

4. Capitalize on Existing Infrastructure: Recent investments including $56 million for the Pier 79 terminal and $13 million for the East 34th St. ferry landing are a step in the right direction.  The ferry landing at Riis Park can serve commuter ferries with no additional investment, and the Port Authority has already committed money to upgrade the ferry terminal at LaGuardia’s Marine Air Terminal.  In addition, existing landings across the city like at 69th Street in Bay Ridge, Coffey Street in Red Hook and the Greenpoint Pier and others should be upgraded to serve commuter ferries. Infrastructure upgrades are first steps toward attracting private operators to expand service.

5. Make the Commute by Ferry Seamless: The private ferry lines should be equipped with MetroCard technology so that commuters who couple ferries with the MTA subway or busses can pay for each leg of their commute with one card.  MetroCard compatibility would also make it easier for ferry users to use TransitChek to pay for their commutes with pre-tax dollars.  There should also be a one-ticket option for commuters who use NJ Transit, Long Island Railroad, or Metro-North and then transfer to a ferry. Bus lines should also be altered so that nobody has to walk from a ferry terminal to begin the next leg of their commute.

If we are going to keep New York growing and vibrant, we need to find a new way to get around.  We’ve run out of space on land.  It’s time to look to the water.

- Rep. Anthony D. Weiner (D – Brooklyn & Queens)