The city is reviewing bids from private ferry operators to run a pilot program between the Rockaways and lower Manhattan — a service officials hope will help the environment and shorten commutes.
While the city Economic Development Corporation declined to comment on a timetable, community leaders in the Rockaways were hopeful there would soon be a decision.
“We’re very excited,” said Jonathan L. Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, which covers the Rockaway peninsula, home to 110,000 Queens residents. “It’s an obvious choice and an obvious answer.”
“I believe our waterways are underutilized, especially in the Rockaways,” said City Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., D-Queens, who has advocated for Rockaway ferry service the past seven years.
The ferry project stems from PlaNYC 2030, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s push to make the city more environmentally friendly. Officials hope that ferry service will attract commuters who would otherwise drive to work.
The service, minimally, would run during peak weekday rush hours, according to the city, which put out a call for bids in May. The fare reportedly would be about $4 each way, keeping in line with the cost of express bus fares.
“We think it’s an important service,” said Tom Fox, president and CEO of New York Water Taxi, who submitted a bid with Tom Paladino, president of TWFM Ferry Inc., which runs American Princess Cruises.
Fox said their service would run from the Riis Landing ferry dock at Beach 169 Street, in the Roxbury section of the peninsula, to Wall Street.
“We’ve got experience,” Fox said. “We believe we can provide a high-quality service.”
Other ferry companies that submitted proposals were Circle Line and New York Waterway. Both declined to comment on their bids.
In the PlaNYC report released in April, the city said it wants to work with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on extending bus routes to Midtown ferry docks and allowing passengers to transfer between ferries and buses with MetroCards. The Rockaway peninsula is served by the Long Island Railraod, the Rockaway Park shuttle and the A train, about an hour’s ride to Midtown.
Statistics from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, which addresses regional transportation issues, show that 51 percent of average weekday public transportation passengers used the subway in the second quarter of 2007. At the same time, ferry ridership amounted to 1 percent of average weekday ridership.
The idea for Rockaway ferry service has been around for at least 15 years. In 2003, a pilot weekend ferry connecting Breezy Point — on the far western end of the peninsula — and Manhattan brought tourists to the Gateway National Recreation Area in Jamaica Bay. The $26 round-trip cost, however, was widely blamed for its failure.
But officials didn’t give up on bringing ferry service to the Rockaways. In August 2004, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-Queens and Brooklyn, secured $15 million to buy three ferries for the proposed Rockaway route. He also obtained $1.7 million to construct the Riis Landing ferry dock.
Bloomberg has earmarked a subsidy of $3 million to $6 million for the project. In May, the mayor said the ferry service “would greatly improve the quality of life for many people in the Rockaways, replacing hours spent in traffic with a beautiful ride along New York’s coastline.” (Click here for Bloomberg’s news conference on the topic.)
Some ferry advocates pointed to potential economic benefits of ferry service.
“Ferries encourage development in areas that have been underutilized,” said Pat Smith, spokesman for New York Waterway.
Joe Hartigan, a Rockaway Park resident and ferry service advocate, noted there is a housing boom on the peninsula, and said the area attracts visitors ranging from beach-goers to bird watchers.
“My thing is to get people out of their cars,” he said. “I’m doing this to improve my neighborhood.”