City doesn’t pay the ferryman

City doesn’t pay the ferryman
The Brooklyn Paper / Jeff Bachner

The abrupt shutdown of winter ferry travel between Manhattan and Williamsburg and DUMBO is a result of the city’s failure to properly subsidize the service, the president of New York Water Taxi told The Brooklyn Paper this week.

“We’ve been led to believe that the city is ready, willing and able to assist us, but we’re still waiting for them to decide what role they want to play in supporting waterborne transportation,” said Tom Fox, operator of the Red Hook-based ferry service.

“We can’t go it alone anymore. We’ve been shouldering it ourselves for a long time and the weight has become more than we can bear.”

The Bloomberg administration’s PlaNYC proposal calls for expanded ferry service across the East River. Indeed, the city’s Economic Development Corporation solicited proposals from ferry companies in March to provide year-round service to three new ferry landings in Greenpoint and Williamsburg — but to date the city has not provided direct subsidies to underwrite the service.

Now, the cancellation of winter ferry service from existing ports of call at Schaefer Landing in Williamsburg and the Fulton Ferry dock in DUMBO has cast doubt on whether ferry service is viable at all.

Last week, Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) called on Mayor Bloomberg to provide subsidies to companies who taxi commuters into Manhattan via the river.

“Mass transit just doesn’t work on its own,” Yassky said. “It requires government subsidies. The mayor has called for a big expansion in ferry service, which is exactly right.”

Fox said New York Water Taxi was forced to shut down its East River route from Jan. 1 to May 1 because the company would lose $2,000 a day if it continued to shuttle commuters during the winter months. He cited rising fuel costs and declining ridership during cold weather.

The company also had to shut down the route in 2005 under similar circumstances, Fox said, but operated through the winter last year.

The Schafer Landing condominiums — which opened last year — highlighted the ferry as a selling point for the Manhattan-bound commuters who can afford its luxury residences.

The loss of ferry service could have a major impact on the value of those apartments.

“Many of our tenants were expecting a reliable water taxi service year-round,” said Don Capoccia of BFC Partners, the developer. “It’s a great service, but no transit service is truly viable unless it is totally reliable and that is obviously not the case here.”

Money isn’t the only loss here; commuters who use the ferry every day from Schaefer Landing loved the service.

“Taking the ferry to work is so convenient for me,” said Andrew Canning, an insurance broker in Downtown Manhattan as he rushed to the 8:30 am water taxi the other day.

“I’m very disappointed. I understand that they say they’re losing money, but these condos haven’t even been open for a year, so I don’t see how they know they won’t have riders this winter.”

Until ferry service resumes, riders like Dan Pipitone, a Wall Street stockbroker and Schaefer Landing resident, will face longer commutes.