Dueling beach buses compete for Williamsburg-to-Rockaway passengers

Leroy Morrison drives beach-goers from Williamsburg to Fort Tilden and the Rockaways for $6 each way — and he says he invented the premise of connecting North Brooklynites with the waters off of Queens.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Two transit entrepreneurs are battling for Brooklyn’s newest trade route: the increasingly popular passage between Williamsburg and the Rockaways.

Rival bus companies are capitalizing on the city’s burgeoning hipster beach scene by ferrying passengers to the Queens seashore, competing for fares and cred in the process.

The Rockabus brings sea-lovers to the Atlantic in true Billyburg style on an old-fashioned school bus with a BYOB policy and a fashionable clientele that has generated plenty of web buzz. Meanwhile, Alexis Van Lines offers a similar service with less flare, more frugality, and a TV tuned to reggae music videos for a beach-y vibe.

And, as is often the case between competitors, both businesses claim they came up with the idea first.

“This is the first shuttle bus to operate between Williamsburg and the Rockaways and Fort Tilden,” said Sam Morrill, one of the founders of the Rockabus, which runs from the corner of Union and Meeker avenues every two hours on weekends. “There will only be one original Rockabus, and that’s us.”

Leroy Morrison, an operator for Alexis Van Lines who runs hourly commuter vans and minibuses from North Seventh Street and Bedford Avenue to Fort Tilden on the weekends, claims it was his transit company that sparked Brooklyn’s recent resurgence of interest in the Rockaways.

“The Rockabus took away a lot of publicity from us,” said Morrison, who claims he started offering reggae-thumping rides that are also BYOB for $6 each way last year. “People were looking for us and couldn’t find us and people thought they came up with the idea.”

The services operators couldn’t have more different backgrounds, either.

Morrison is 25-year-veteran “dollar van” operator who’s first job was collecting fares on buses in his native Jamaica.

Morrill is a business-minded 20-something from Brooklyn Heights who went to Stuyvesant High School and graduated from Middlebury College in 2008.

And their bus lines operate differently, as well.

Morrison’s vehicles have room to stow bikes inside — and he’s willing to pick up passengers along the way if beach-goers are so inclined.

The Rockabus is more expensive at $10 for a one-way ticket and $15 for round-trip service, but the company courts customers seeking convenience thanks to its online ticketing.

Bikes aren’t allowed on the old school bus, but water-lovers who buy Rockabus tickets receive discounts on food and drinks at hip hotspots in the Rockaways.

Both companies say they’re thriving and winning tons of customers by linking North Brooklyn to parts of Queens that previously required lengthy subway rides or multiple bus transfers.

“We don’t have a choice but to welcome competition, but we’re very confident in the quality of the service we provide,” said Morrill, whose company had its biggest day to date on Aug. 12 when it ferried more than 400 people to and from the beach. “A lot of people come back every weekend.”

Morrison says business has been so good he has upped the number of his vans and minibuses assigned to the route this summer — and he says that’s something passengers should cheer.

“People deserve a better service than a school bus,” Morrison said. “I love transportation. I know I can do better.”

Alexis Van Lines departs from N. Seventh Street at Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. For reservations call (917) 434-1614. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. $6 one way, $12 roundtrip.

The Rockabus departs from Union and Meeker avenues in Williamsburg. For reservations visit Rockabus.com. Saturday and Sunday only. $10 one way, $15 roundtrip.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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