Drydock! Water Taxi says it will stop service at year’s end

Ikea cuts freebies; shuttle bus, ferry service trimmed back
Tom Fox

A yellow-and-black checkered ferry that provides a popular service between Ikea in Red Hook and Manhattan says it will float off into the sunset at the end of this year after learning it lost its bid to run the mayor’s city-wide ferry system.

New York Water Taxi, which has been shuttling landlubbers across the East River and on harbor tours for the last 15 years, claims the city has raised the gangway on its offer to run ferries between Brooklyn and four other boroughs, with the city instead choosing an out-of-state competitor to run the ship. Now, in a power-play move, the colorful taxi service says it soon won’t make any more runs unless the mayor reconsiders — leaving Ikea, and residents of transportation-starved Red Hook high and dry.

“It will be very difficult to swim across the channel with all of that furniture,” said Water Taxi spokesman Jordan Barowitz. “That ferry connection has become an integral part of the transportation system for the neighborhood.”

The aqua cab entered a bid to operate the new city-wide ferry service that will begin in 2017, but lost out to San Francisco-based company Hornblower Cruises and Events, according to a Crain’s report.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is overseeing the project, says it hasn’t selected an operator.

A spokesman for Hornblower — who contacted this paper after receiving an e-mail from the Economic Development Corporation about an earlier inquiry from this reporter — disputed the Crain’s report and said it was still competing for the bid, but argued calling the cruise company, which has been operating in the harbor since 2007, an intruder doesn’t hold water.

“We’re not happy we’re characterized as some kind of outsider,” said spokesman George Lence. “We’re very much part of the fabric of New York, we’re as part of New York as the Empire State Building and Times Square.”

And the leader of the New York-based Water Taxi says it will sink next to the cheaper, government-funded service that folks can ride for the price of a subway ride.

“We can’t compete against heavily subsidized monopolies and that’s what’s happening the harbor,” said company co-president David Neil.

Reps for the citywide ferry service had been touting the operation as a complement to the city’s existing water vessels, which include the Water Taxi, and city-run Staten Island Ferry and East River Ferry service, which could also suffer a setback from the decision to pull its boats out of the water.

The New York Water Taxi partners with the East River Ferry service that shuttles passengers between the Brooklyn waterfront, Queens, and Manhattan by providing a vessel and crew.

And folks that depend on the Water Taxi to catch views of city’s sights or commute to Red Hook will have to find another, less lavish way to get around, or maybe just skip the high seas altogether, says Neil.

“Customers will have to find an average experience or perhaps they will simply choose not to go out on the water,” he said.

A rep for the Economic Development Corporation said it is surprised to hear the taxi is threatening to call it quits since it won’t directly compete with any of their routes, maintaining there is room for everyone out on the harbor.

“We believe there is room in our city for multiple ferry operators providing many different types of services, and we’re disappointed that Water Taxi does not share our commitment to the future of New York Harbor,” said spokesman Anthony Hogrebe.

The Ikea ferry cost is free on weekends, but cost $5 per trip on weekdays when it runs every 45 minutes between 2:30 pm and 7:20 pm. Riders with any receipt from Ikea — including one for the delicious $.50 hot dog — also ride free at all times.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill