Marty: Southern Brooklyn needs ferries

Borough President Markowitz looked skyward to honor Hope Reichbach at the dedication of a memorial fund to the late Council staffer.
Photo by Alice Proujansky

Borough President Markowitz wants the city to open up ferry service routes to Canarsie, Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island and Bay Ridge — but the city’s Economic Development Corporation isn’t on board with his ambitious proposal.

Markowitz made his waterborne pitch during his 90-minute State of the Borough address at landlocked Brooklyn College in Flatbush on Wednesday night, claiming that borough ferry service would be “a positive economic step.”

“[Southern Brooklyn] has it all except for one thing — a ferry,” Markowitz explained.

But the city won’t be bankrolling Marty’s plan anytime soon: Economic Development Corporation spokeswoman Jen Freidberg said it was far too early to say if the agency would subsidize a service to Bay Ridge, Coney Island and beyond.

“We’re still testing the market for water-born transportation,” Freidberg said.

A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg wouldn’t comment on Markowitz’s ferry proposal, deferring to the Economic Development Corporation.

Others claim that ferries would be more trouble than they’re worth.

Steve Barrison, the president of the Sheepshead Bay Improvement Group, said that if the Borough President wanted to bring ferry service to Emmons Avenue, he may inadvertently create a neighborhood-wide parking nightmare.

“If you’re going to have ferry service, where are people [who ride them] going to park?” Barrison asked.

Markowitz had no answers, offering very few details during his speech about where the boats would dock or how much the rides would cost.

Ferries once shuttled commuters from the financial district to the 69th Street pier in Bay Ridge, but the city suspended the service in the early 1990s, after the ferry landing was removed during a waterfront renovation and never replaced.

The city considered reviving the Bay Ridge ferry route as recently as four years ago, but decided to build a ferry landing on 58th Street in Sunset Park instead. That ferry briefly transported riders to the city before shutting down last year.

In June, New York Waterway launched a ferry line linking residents of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Downtown and DUMBO to Manhattan after the city Economic Development Corporation agreed to spend $9.3 million over three years to help pay for the service.

But taking the ferry is far from a bargain: the 100-person East River ferries run every 20 minutes and cost $4 a ride, or $140 for a monthly pass — significantly more than the $2.25 single ride and $104 unlimited monthly ride offered by the MTA.

A similar fare system could be adopted in southern Brooklyn, but it’s still unclear if the system is profitable. The city estimated that New York Waterway would have to net 718,000 riders in 2011 to meet its operating costs, but only 500,000 people rode its ferries from June — when the ferries launched — through December, Friedberg said.

Yet ferry advocates hope that Markowitz’s endorsement could revive an idea that’s been dead in the water for years.

“We definitely need transportation alternatives,” said Heather McCown, a transportation activist who sent Mayor Bloomberg a 1,400-signature petition in 2007 demanding a ferry service from Bay Ridge, but failed to convince the city to fund the project. “A 20-minute ferry ride to Wall Street is much better than an hour commute on the bus or subway.”

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

Borough President Markowitz wants ferry routes opened in southern Brooklyn, but the city has no plans to pay for it.

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