In late January, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced the opportunity to apply for approximately $30 million in fiscal year 2020 competitive grant funding for passenger ferry projects nationwide.
The passenger ferry grant program is authorized by Congress for projects that develop and support ferry service on many of the nation’s waterways, including the purchase, repair and modernization of ferry boats, terminal and related facilities that communities depend on.
The FTA will award competitive grants to states and public entities for all of the above, plus supporting existing ferry service and the establishment of new passenger ferry service. Will the City of Glen Cove apply for these potential funds?
The City of Glen Cove will start a ferry service in May. This requires providing $3.1 million in operating subsidies to Hornblower Metro Ferry. With only one boat, there will only be two trips to and from 34th Street during rush hours.
Contrast that with the LIRR, which provides six morning peak and six evening peak trains. New York State Senator Jim Gaughan is lobbying the MTA to increase Oyster Bay branch service.
This will entice more people to ride the LIRR leaving fewer potential ferry customers. NICE bus provides eight N21 route trips during the morning and 5 p.m. rush hour trips originating in the City of Glen Cove.
They require an easy transfer at the Great Neck LIRR station before connecting to the N20 Flushing bus. This requires another transfer at Main Street, Flushing to board the No. 7 subway. This subway ride provides direct access to Hudson Yards and midtown Manhattan. You also have the option to board the LIRR in Great Neck for a 30-minute trip to Penn Station.
It may have made no sense for the operator not to have considered adding intermediate stops in Queens, such as Bayside, Fort Totten, College Point, Flushing Marina, LaGuardia Airport, Long Island City or Astoria.
Thousands of residents from Northeast Queens’ two fare zones are willing to pay premium fares for NYC Transit express bus or LIRR services. Many would do the same for a new ferry service versus driving or taking a local bus or subway for journeys to work.
How many commuters will want to transfer at the East 34th Street Ferry Terminal for a second boat destined for Pier 11 in the Financial District? Many current LIRR riders continue to prefer a one seat ride or transfer at Jamaica followed by a second transfer to the subway at either Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn, Penn Station, Manhattan or Hunters Point, Queens. If East Side access to Penn Station is up and running by the end of December 2022, many potential ferry riders may elect to stay with the LIRR for access to midtown Manhattan.
Commuters frequently make decisions based on frequency of service options, time of trip required to reach final destination and farebox costs. If the new Glen Cove ferry service offers far fewer trips to select from, transfers are inconvenient, travel time is too long and the price is not competitive with the LIRR, it may be doomed to failure due to poor ridership, just like previous private operators.
Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA, NYC Transit, LIRR and Metro North, MTA bus, New Jersey Transit and NYC Department of Transportation Staten Island Ferry, along with 30 other transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.