BROOKLYN — The planned Citywide Ferry System will begin service in the spring of 2017 with three routes — South Brooklyn, Astoria and Rockaway — but its $2.75 ticket will not integrate with the MTA's MetroCard fare system or allow free transfers to subways and buses, city officials said at a community meeting Thursday night.
Without a free transfer, most riders who do not work within walking distance of their docks would effectively see their transportation costs double. But the higher cost would still be in the range of the fare for an express bus, said Lydia Downing, the city Economic Development Corporation's vice president and deputy director for government and community relations.
“I think it’s a dealbreaker if you can’t get it integrated with the MetroCard,” Bahij Chancey, an architect and Cobble Hill resident, told the EDC at the meeting. Commuters won’t bother with the additional ticket and the extra fare, and the city will find there isn’t enough rider revenue to sustain the operation, he said.
Eventually, the ferry and MTA fare systems could merge, EDC officials said.
"The MTA is planning to phase out the existing MetroCard. Once the new MTA payment option is available, we will explore ways to integrate payment options with the Citywide Ferry Service," the EDC's website states.
Thursday night’s EDC presentation to the transportation committee of Community Board 6 met united opposition over the proposed location of the Red Hook dock, which will likely be at the far end of the Van Brunt Street pier, near the existing dock in shallower water at the Fairway Market building.
The EDC’s back-up option is the pier at Valentino Park, near the mouth of the Buttermilk Channel.
Committee members unanimously passed a motion for the EDC to instead consider Atlantic Basin, a location EDC officials said was out of the question for the 2017 launch due to U.S. Coast Guard security restrictions anytime a cruise ship is docked at the adjacent Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal.
The Atlantic Basin inlet is also problematic because it has a small opening and no-wake restrictions that would require the ferry to slow down for a long time, thus extending the full trip, EDC officials said.
However, many members of the public continued to argue that the Atlantic Basin was the only viable location for the ferry service to attract Red Hook commuters. They cited its better proximity to more residents — including the Red Hook Houses — as well as bus stops, parking, businesses and cultural venues.
“You’re going to have your connection, but you’re not going to have your ridership," local activist John McGettrick said.
Members of the transportation committee also said the U.S. Coast Guard security restrictions were excessive and that before the cruise terminal was built in 2006, they had USCG assurances that a security zone would not close the whole basin. For all of 2015, there are only 18 days when cruise ships, including Cunard's Queen Mary 2, are scheduled to dock there, according to the EDC calendar.
For 2016, 23 ships are currently on the schedule.
In January, New York Water Taxi founder Tom Fox sought support for an Atlantic Basin ferry stop as part of redevelopment plan involving a marina, hotel, commercial maritime services and a feeder school for the New York Harbor high school on Governors Island.
“These are the options we have now,” Downing, of the EDC, said of the Van Brunt and Valentino pier locations. “For the 2017 launch, it’s not going to be at the Atlantic Basin, but we hear you."
The planned South Brooklyn route — making stops at Bay Ridge, the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Red Hook, Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 and Pier 1, and Wall Street in Manhattan — was also criticized by community members who said Governors Island should also be included in the route.
EDC officials said they are considering adding a Governors Island stop, and a decision on that location will be announced this winter around the same time the EDC expects to sign a contract with a ferry operator.
The CB6 transportation committee also unanimously voted to endorse the addition of a Governors Island stop.
If Governors Island isn't included, the estimated commute time from Bay Ridge to Wall Street’s Pier 11 would be 43 minutes, while the Red Hook to Pier 11 portion would take only 24 minutes.
The ferry would run from about 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days a year. During peak commute times, the South Brooklyn boats would arrive every 30 minutes, according to the EDC's environmental assessment statement.
The South Brooklyn route calls for boats that hold roughly 150 passengers, far bigger than the 50 passenger New York Water Taxi boats that typically serve Red Hook on the IKEA-Fairway Market-Pier 11 route now used mostly by shoppers and daytrippers.
The bigger boats would require deeper water, meaning the most viable option to dock quickly and safely is at the far end of the long pier at the end of Van Brunt Street, EDC officials said.
The EDC plans to build dock barges outfitted with ticket machines and covered waiting areas with wind guards and places to sit. The barges will be drilled into the floor of the waterway, but can be easily moved to another location if needed, EDC officials said. The plan is to build each pier with two slips to allow two boats to use the dock simultaneously.
In 2018, the Citywide Ferry System would add two more routes, one along the Lower East Side and another for Soundview in The Bronx. All told, there will be 21 landings in the Citywide Ferry Service, including 10 that will be built from scratch.
The new routes, first proposed earlier this year by Mayor Bill de Blasio in his State of the City address, will be initially supported by a $55 million capital budget. It is expected the city will subsidize the ferry operator or operators, but that cost remains unclear.
The city’s current pilot ferry program, operated by the East River Ferry, is attracting about 1.3 million riders a year to its service, which costs $4 per ride on weekdays and $6 on weekends.
It will continue to operate its routes on its current contract and may eventually be combined with the Citywide Ferry Service, EDC officials said. The Citywide Ferry Service's new routes would carry about 4.5 million riders per year, according to the EDC forecast.
The ferry plans will undergo environmental review in the fall and go up for further public comment, including a Sept. 28 meeting at 6 p.m. at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Come winter, the EDC hopes to sign a contract with a ferry operator (proposals have already been submitted), followed by permitting, barge fabrication and installation into 2016. Other September public meetings are scheduled for Queens, Manhattan and The Bronx.
"We've already purchased the steel for the barges," said Peter Flynt, an EDC assistant vice president and director of ferries.