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When Big Orange Boats Aren't Enough: Staten Islanders Want More Ferries

By Nicholas Rizzi | July 11, 2017 9:35am
 The success of the NYC Ferry has not convinced the city to increase their timeline on considering to expand it to Staten Island.
The success of the NYC Ferry has not convinced the city to increase their timeline on considering to expand it to Staten Island.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

STATEN ISLAND — The city-subsidized NYC Ferry service has gotten more ridership than expected — but Staten Islanders already used to traveling by boat are clamoring for more.

Residents and elected officials want more Staten Island Ferry stops, an express boat to Midtown, a route to Brooklyn and any service for the New Jersey-facing South Shore.

While the city started to survey riders last week to gauge interest in additional routes, officials aren't yet convinced they need to quicken their timeline to bring NYC Ferry service to the only borough left out.

"We have to remind the city that apparently we are an island, and as an island we should take advantage of the water, so we should want to find a way to bring ferry service in any form," said Borough President James Oddo, who has pushed the city to add a Staten Island NYC Ferry route since the "citywide" service was announced.

"Clearly there is a demand for fast ferries in New York City, and New Yorkers will use a fast ferry if you site it at the right location and if you have the right price point," Oddo added.

A one-way NYC ferry ticket costs $2.75, allowing for free transfers to other NYC Ferry boats but not to the MTA's subways or buses. The city spends $6.60 on average to subsidize each fare for the service and plans to spend $30 million each year for operational support.

It costs the city $5.86 per person to keep the Staten Island Ferry free.

READ MORE: 6 Things You Didn't Know About the Staten Island Ferry

A spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corporation said it's still waiting for rollouts of all the planned routes — serving Astoria, The Bronx and the Lower East Side — this year and next before it would consider adding more.

"We are committed to working with local elected officials and stakeholders to serve the transportation needs of Staten Island residents," EDC spokesman Ryan Birchmeier said in a statement.

"The city is focused on a successful rollout of the first NYC Ferry routes in 2017 and 2018. Once this service is fully launched, then we will consider opportunities for expansion in additional communities, including Staten Island."

The Department of Transportation's online survey asks riders if and in what situations they would use new Staten Island Ferry stops or paid service, after the agency agreed last year to study a possible expansion to docks at Wall Street and East Midtown at the behest of Oddo. (Residents can use the code "dna" to take the survey.)

"DOT is conducting a survey of S.I. ferry passengers to better understand travel behavior and to evaluate what the demand and cost might be if St. George to Midtown Manhattan ferry service were to be offered," a spokeswoman for the agency said in a statement.

More boat service to Staten Island would be welcome news to some daily riders of the ferry.

"I think we underutilize our waterways. I think it's a great idea to put it out there and see if it works," said Dominick DeRubbio, president of the Young Democrats of Staten Island, who partnered with Community Board 1 last year to study ways to improve the Staten Island Ferry.

"I would love to see a circular water line — not just the citywide, but to really connect to all the boroughs and even Jersey City."

In the first month after its May 1 debut, the NYC Ferry saw an average of 12,000 riders each week on its Rockaway route and 45,000 on the East River Route, according to the EDC. The South Brooklyn Route, which launched June 1, saw about 20,875 riders per week during its first month of service, the agency said.

The Staten Island Ferry had a record 23.1 million riders in 2016, and the EDC estimated in 2013 that it shuttles nearly 70,000 passengers between St. George and Battery Park City each day.

The Astoria route of the NYC Ferry is scheduled to start in August, and next year service will be added to the Lower East Side and Soundview in The Bronx.

"Everybody else got a ferry and we didn't," said Teresa Caliari, neighborhood team leader for Staten Island For Change, who started a petition to extend it to the South Shore. "It makes no sense. The commute from Staten Island has been documented as being one of the most horrendous."

Oddo said he's been working with the city to quicken the timeline and he has been pushing several other ferry options to help shave time off Staten Islanders' commutes.

Oddo has also been working with NY Waterway — which lost the contract to run the NYC Ferry service — to launch St. George-to-Midtown ferry service.

The unsubsidized service would launch from a dock where the New York Wheel is being constructed, transport riders to Midtown in 25 minutes and could start next year.

A spokesman for NY Waterway said it was waiting on the go-ahead from Oddo to move forward with plans, and Oddo said that construction delays with the Wheel project shouldn't sink the project.

"It's still full steam ahead," he said. "There is too much money literally in the ground and the proponents of the Wheel have literally passed the point of no return. It's going to get built."

While the new options have mainly focused on the North Shore of the borough, Oddo said he's still trying to get ferry service to the South Shore to help ease commutes and is working with developers of large retail projects there to find docking space.

Caliari said Staten Island For Change launched its petition to bring ferry service to the South Shore out of "frustration" that the neighborhood keeps getting left out of plans for new routes.

The petition had only received about 30 signatures as of Monday, but the group would be happy with any of the NYC Ferry lines coming to the area.

"The more, the merrier," said Caliari, a retired school teacher. "It's just a resource that we should use."

The different proposals for ferry routes in the borough comes as good news for daily riders of the Staten Island Ferry, who may not always have to end their trip in Lower Manhattan.

DeRubbio, who has to commute to Midtown regularly, said he isn't sure the pitched ideas would help him shave much time off his commute, but he still hopes the city adds more water options.

"I think the big variable is what is going to transport people from east and west [Midtown] to a more central location."