DeBlasio: Streetcar may not offer free transfers to subway, bus — or even my own ferry!

DeBlasio: Streetcar may not offer free transfers to subway, bus — or even my own ferry!
Community News Group / Max Jaeger

Straphangers may have to pay a second fare when switching from subways and buses to the streetcar Mayor DeBlasio wants to build along Brooklyn’s waterfront for their ride, Hizzoner admitted on Tuesday.

The news contradicts previous claims from those working on the project that it will offer free transfers between services, which the mayor couldn’t guarantee because the city has only just started speaking to the state-controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority about connecting the two.

“We’ve just begun [discussions],” said DeBlasio at a Red Hook press conference touting the benefits of the proposed Sunset Park-to-Queens trolley on Feb. 16. “Our goal is full integration and maximum transfers … we’ve got to work that through with the MTA.”

DeBlasio reiterated previous promises that a ride on the $2.5-billion city-funded streetcar would cost no more than whatever a standard MetroCard swipe does if and when the proposed service launches around 2024, but denied claims made by former traffic commissioner “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz — whose engineering firm worked on the original pitch for the so-called Brooklyn Queens Connector and who has been touting its benefits to media outlets — that commuters will be able to step off a train and onto the tram without paying again.

“We see it as being seamless with the MTA, so we don’t see paying a separate fee,” Schwartz previously told this paper.

Local transit boosters say free transfers and integration between the two systems would be essential for winning residents over to the plan — especially those from low-income areas in Sunset Park and Red Hook, who the mayor insists the streetcar will help.

“Having to pay two fares is unrealistic, even for someone who is wealthy enough to afford a monthly MetroCard,” said Eric McClure, a co-chair of Community Board 6’s transportation committee, which encompasses Red Hook and Cobble Hill, where the trolley will traverse. “It would be critical to its success for it to fully integrate with the MTA system.”

But Red Hook commuters may not have much choice in jumping aboard — the mayor also admitted that the new system could encourage the transit agency to scrap the subway-starved nabe’s sole bus service, the B61 — which currently ferries around 30,000 people along the waterfront every weekday.

“If the MTA ended up with any excess capacity there are sure parts of the outer boroughs that could use a lot more bus services,” he said.

The news is another blow for cash-strapped local commuters who learned last year that the ferry service DeBlasio plans to roll out between Dumbo and Bay Ridge in 2017 will also not offer free transfers or integrate with the transit authority’s system. There are also no guarantees of free transfers between the ferries and streetcar, a rep for the mayor’s office said.

Transportation honchos also fielded questions on the key question of whether the streetcar will tangle with regular traffic or have its own light-rail-style lane with right-of-way, but offered only vague assurances that it would be a mix of both.

“Our goal here is to have streetcars move in traffic, but as much as we can a right-of-way where we’ll be keeping traffic out so we can achieve speeds that are going to make the real travel time savings that we’re talking about,” said transportation department czar Polly Trottenberg.

DeBlasio first announced his support for the Brooklyn Queens Connector earlier this month, jumping on board a proposal created by waterfront developers and businesses, who hope the yuppie-friendly mode of transport will encourage more building and higher property values along the proposed route. Both the mayor and backers claim the system can pay for itself via increased property taxes, though some transit experts have slammed that plan for leaving too much to chance.

A spokesman from the Metropolitan Transit Authority declined to comment on integrating fares, but said it was ready to talk with the city.

“We look forward to learning more about the city’s proposal,” said the authority’s press guru Kevin Ortiz.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Visions of things to come: A rendering imagines a streecar gliding past Industry City in Sunset Park — which in this fantastical future also sports bike lanes and repaved roads.
Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector