An area elected official this week called on the mayor to implement a fee for the Staten Island Ferry, saying the additional revenue would help fund the same service for the Rockaways. But at least one city agency has indicated that the proposal is not feasible.
Though ferry service for the Rockaways was not included in this fiscal year’s final city budget, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach) recently sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking him to institute a $4 ridership charge for non-residents on the long-complimentary Staten Island Ferry. Goldfeder said the new fee would generate enough revenue to create permanent ferry service for southern Queens and Rockaway families.
“Staten Island is already receiving a generous subsidy, while Rockaway is still desperately in need of permanent ferry service and better transportation options,” Goldfeder noted. “The Staten Island Ferry has become an attraction for tourists who enjoy the free ride on our taxpayer dime.”
Goldfeder additionally pointed out that in 2006, the Independent Budget Office conducted a study and found charging a “tourist only” Staten Island Ferry fare, or a MetroCard swipe for non-borough residents, would bring approximately $2.4 million in yearly revenue, and a MetroCard system would generate approximately $4.5 million a year.
The fee would allow for the expansion of ferry service and provide affordable transportation options to other “transit-starved” parts of the city, Goldfeder wrote in the letter.
However, a city Department of Transportation spokesman poured cold water on the plan, for several reasons: The city Administrate Code has prohibited the city from charging passengers for the Staten Island Ferry since 1997—to amend the code, the City Council would need to pass legislation instituting a fare for the residents of four of the five boroughs, as well as for all non-residents to the city; in addition, the city would then need to secure capital funding in order to install turnstiles at the ferry terminals and create an ongoing system to verify passengers’ residency or employment location and manage the service; and the federal government requires that fare policy changes create no unfair disparities, so if the city fails to prove that, it could potentially affect the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal ferry funds the city receives each year.
Still, area residents are calling on city officials to make a Rockaway ferry a reality.
“The Rockaway ferry service needs to become a permanent means of water transportation for the Rockaway, Broad Channel and Breezy Point residents,” said Danny Ruscillo, co-chair of Community Board 14’s Transportation Committee.“Ferry service is needed to help with our economic development, especially after the massive destruction of Superstorm Sandy, which the Rockaway Peninsula suffered. The ferry schedule should include weekends in the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Ridership would increase and the tourism would be a benefit for all.”
By Michael V. Cusenza