2014-08-08 / Letters

Crunch The Ferry Numbers

Dear Editor:

I read with considerable interest the comments of city Economic Development Corporation President Kyle Kimball regarding how much it supposedly costs the city per passenger to subsidize our Rockaway- Brooklyn-Manhattan ferry (“Eye on Rockaway –Ferry Decision No Surprise,” Aug. 1). Mr. Kimball quoted the familiar $30 per passenger figure in maintaining that continuing the ferry makes no economic sense, but he offers no transparency as to how this number – repeated incessantly almost like a mantra – was arrived at. If the city is going to take away our ferry by ending the subsidy, they at least owe us a detailed explanation of the economics involved.

I believe that Mr. Kimball is still using the same figure the city was using a year ago, and this is badly out of date, given the growing enthusiasm for the ferry. That feeling has been reflected in recent increases in ridership – especially since we found while soliciting signatures for Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder’s ongoing petition campaign in favor of the ferry subsidy, many people in Manhattan, in Brooklyn and even some here in Rockaway itself, have only recently discovered that there even IS a ferry. It provides affordable and convenient transportation, with a great view and amenities you won’t find on any subway train.

Let’s do the math.

Last December, The Wave reported that the average daily ridership from the ferry’s inception on Nov. 12, 2012 up until Dec. 13, 2013 was 730 passengers between Rockaway and Manhattan, with another 250 per day between Brooklyn Army Terminal and Manhattan, for a daily total of 980 passengers. In an average five-day week, therefore, the ferry would carry 4,900 passengers. Multiply that by 52 weeks and you get some 254,800 passengers annually. Divide that figure into $8 million – the amount requested as a subsidy by our local public officials to keep the ferry going for a full year – and you get $31.39 per passenger, a figure close to the $30 subsidy cost that Mr. Kimball and other city officials have quoted.

But let’s fast forward nearly a year.

Anyone who rides the ferry on a regular basis can tell you that the ridership has greatly increased since then. By how much? Well, Jim Barker, the president of Seastreak, the operating carrier, was quoted as recently as July 15 in the Nassau Herald newspaper in the Five Towns (in the context of a story about how the ferry might be a viable alternative for some Five Towns and/or Rockaway commuters in danger of being left stranded by the LIRR strike then being threatened) as saying that Seastreak “averages about 1,800 commuters per day round-trip.” Assuming Mr. Barker’s figures are reasonably accurate and not overly inflated – and I am sure that he gets weekly, or maybe even daily tallies of just how many people are riding his boats, based upon how many $3.50 tickets are sold – 1,800 trips per day comes out to 9,000 per week, or 468,000 per year. Divide that figure into $8 million and you get $17.09 per trip – still a somewhat high number, to be sure, but only slightly more than half the obviously outdated and wildly inaccurate $30 figure Kyle Kimball keeps throwing out there to justify ending the subsidy.

If the ever-increasing ridership continues to bring the effective per-rider cost of the $8 million subsidy down below even that level – and that’s a fairly safe bet – Seastreak owes it to its many, many new fans that it has made in New York in the last year-and-a half, and more importantly, Mr. Kimball of the EDC and Mayor Bill de Blasio owe it to the city government’s hard-working, tax-paying constituents here in Rockaway, and those in Brooklyn and in Manhattan who also use and depend upon this ferry service, to give us up-todate, accurate ridership and projected cost-per-rider numbers in order to better inform the ongoing public debate about this very, very important issue.


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