Home Public Transit Policy Attempting to fix the Mayor’s five-boro ferry proposal

Attempting to fix the Mayor’s five-boro ferry proposal

by Benjamin Kabak


Over the past few years, I’ve been harsh on politicians who have opted to trumpet proposals for ferry service as a cure-all for the city’s congested transit networks, and Mayor de Blasio’s so-called five-borough ferry service was no exception. He unveiled the idea during his State of the City speech last week, and I tore it apart on Thursday.

Simply put, the mayor’s proposal is an expensive way to subsidize travel for the few people who both live and work along the city’s waterfronts, and most of those people have chosen to live in luxury housing on the water front knowing commutes may take a little longer. With the exception of the Soundview and Red Hook ferries, the New Yorkers who need the most help — the middle and lower classes in transit-poor areas — are left out of the mayor’s idea, and it falls short as a solution.

But if we step back for a few minutes and ignore the way ferries cater to NIMBYs by leaving car lanes, parking spots and lengthy and disruptive heavy construction projects to the side, we may be able to save parts of the ferry proposal. It takes creativity and work, and it would take some rethinking of road space and transit prioritization. It also doesn’t overcome the fact that a ferry service that costs the same as a MetroCard swipe is subsidized to the tune of $15-$30 per rider, but it’s a start.

1. Integrated Fare. No matter how much money the city is willing to sink into the ferry system, they won’t get significant buy-in from residents who have to pay two fares. Those who are willing to use the ferry system to save time won’t be so keen on paying a $2.75 fare for the ferry and another for connecting modes of transit on the other side. This of course involves cooperation between the city and the MTA, and although the MTA has not embraced the ferry proposal or any integrated fare system, a free transfer between boat and bus or boat and subway would do wonders for ridership and mobility.

2. Integrated Surface Transit System. Ferries on their own aren’t that exciting if the way to get them involves walking and hoping that some other transit system serves the ferry terminal. Along with a ferry system, the mayor should have announced an extensive feeder bus system that delivers riders to ferries and then brings them to their destinations on the other end as well as expanded CitiBike access at ferry stations. The 34th St. Transitway and Vision42 remain the pinnacle of hopes dashed for river-to-river access, and both would do wonders for the mayor’s ferry system. Select Bus Service or BRT routes to and from ferry stops would be acceptable. CitiBikes, which admittedly implicate other issues of integrated costs and fare payment systems, should be readily available at ferry terminals as well. Instead, the mayor’s proposal didn’t even acknowledge that getting to a ferry terminal is just as important, if not more so, than the ferry system itself.

3. The Subsidies Are Too Damn High. As I mentioned, despite the attempts at saving the ferry system, someone needs to justify the subsidies. Considering who the likely riders are and where the routes run, the subsidies are even less palatable. Why must they be so high? What can the city do to bring them in line with at least express bus service, already the highest subsidized mode of transit within the five boroughs? Should we even accept high subsidies without further question?

Even trying to save the ferry proposal rings hollow simply because it’s not going to do much to solve the MTA’s capital budget woes, its constant signal problems or overcrowding on numerous lines. It’s not going to get high-speed service to neighborhoods that rely on local buses at best. It’s a nice thing to have for some people, but for most, it’s an afterthought and another proposal from another politician uninterested in tackling the harder questions relating to transit access and funding.

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Justin Samuels February 9, 2015 - 1:00 am

I think de Blasio is happy that the MTA is a state company and doesn’t really want to be responsible for having to fund it. So basically you’re right.

lop February 9, 2015 - 2:42 am

Every proposed or existing ferry landing has at least one bus nearby. Some small reroutes might be called for. Anything to speed buses or make them more reliable in general is great. Holding buses to meet a ferry when it’s the terminal for the bus. Or like with buses that feed subway stations consider off board fare payment to speed boarding – or if you offer a free transfer just let everyone off the ferry walk on if you don’t want to institute POP along the whole route, probably more feasible near a ferry than a subway station. But is there anywhere that you think a new feeder service is needed to meet a ferry? It looks like the feeder buses you want already exist.

As to subsidies, the Rockaway and Soundview ferries serve long trips and will be expensive. The Soundview route was estimated at ~$10 per trip, though that’s for the whole route, and the intra Manhattan trips are much cheaper to serve. At a 2.50-2.75 fare the other routes were projected to be much cheaper. With a projected subsidy overall of 2.17-4.35 per trip for the new ferries you’re at a fraction of express bus subsidies. Even if costs are double the high end of what’s expected you’re less than the 14.82 average express bus subsidy. Is a new service as subsidized as the existing East river ferry or SI ferry so unjustified? Or if it’s a failure and costs twice as much as expected, comparable to the LIRR?

Benjamin Kabak February 9, 2015 - 9:12 am

I don’t consider a local bus to be an adequate feeder system for a truly integrated ferry network.

SEAN February 9, 2015 - 10:16 am

How come. Isn’t that what NY Waterway busses do?

threestationsquare February 9, 2015 - 12:33 pm

Not exactly. Manhattan buses spend a lot of time stopped as people get on and off and dip their Metrocards. The NYWaterway buses don’t collect fares and only have to stop to drop off on trips from the terminals (or only to pick up on trips to the terminals) so they make fewer shorter stops and are faster. SBS addresses most of these issues though (and the M34 SBS is currently the only bus route serving the E 34th ferry terminal).

Bolwerk February 9, 2015 - 10:50 am

Where could a subway station be served by a ferry? And holding buses to wait for ferries seems foolish, unless the ferry terminal is the bus terminus.

lop February 9, 2015 - 11:18 am

You misunderstood. I said hold buses when it’s the bus terminal. I didn’t mean a subway station that serves a ferry stop. I meant buses that feed subway stations often have long lines from the subway. If subway-bus is a five minute transfer you might cut it down to three minutes if the bus didn’t have to wait for everyone to pay and board through one door. Same with a ferry-bus transfer, it seems a natural candidate for off board payment.

Bolwerk February 9, 2015 - 11:33 am

Maybe, I meant unless the bus terminus is ^already at the terminus. As in, don’t move a bus terminus for that, though do try to time meetings as well as possible.

I actually don’t see much point on off-board payment here. Put TVMs on board, given everyone a five minute grace period to get paid up. Ferry trips like that are so long nobody can easily be missed by a fare inspector. For that matter, it would be nice if SBS had onboard fare payment. Just don’t involve the driver.

threestationsquare February 9, 2015 - 5:18 am

Put an express bus farebox by the door on the ferries. $6 fare with free transfer to connecting transit and the existing weekly and senior/disabled discounts available. No need for a whole extra fare-collection infrastructure with ticket-takers and vending machines like the NYWaterway ferries have, saving some operating costs. The MTA currently splits Metrocard revenue with Academy for the X23/X24 express buses and did so in the past with the predecessors of the MTA Bus company, so could split it with ferry operators on a similar basis. The higher fare makes sense for a more comfortable ride with a near-guaranteed seat, the same way it does for the express buses.

Also consider extending the M42 to the E 34th ferry terminal.

anon_coward February 9, 2015 - 9:04 am

you can make the same arguments against building the 7 line extension and the Second Ave Subway. why are we spending billions of $$$ for people who choose to live on the UES far from the subway or on over crowded stations?

Benjamin Kabak February 9, 2015 - 9:11 am

I wouldn’t lump the 7 line in with 2nd Ave. The latter has clear benefits for anyone riding the Lexington Avenue lines.

anon_coward February 9, 2015 - 9:14 am

which is why you can make those arguments. why are people choosing to live by the water on the UES if there is no or poor transit? why can’t they choose to live somewhere with better transit coverage

Bolwerk February 9, 2015 - 11:07 am

People have to live somewhere. Places with better transit coverage tend to be more expensive?

anon_coward February 9, 2015 - 11:22 am

NYC has a lot of places to live and if the UES didn’t have good transit coverage before SAS people had a choice to live in a lot of other neighborhoods

Bolwerk February 9, 2015 - 11:35 am

They might have any number of reasons for living there. Family, friends, social life, work, status, near school, etc..

It’s such a dense area that it’s a bit hard to argue it shouldn’t have better rapid transit access, especially considering it once did.

anon_coward February 9, 2015 - 12:36 pm

but how many new riders is it going to bring into the system? expanding subways to Nassau will bring in a lot of new riders who currently drive

Bolwerk February 9, 2015 - 1:02 pm

Probably not so many, but nonzero. Almost besides the point. The Lex is filled to the brim and needs relief.

I’m not against outer borough subway expansion, mind you. I agree that it should generally be favored over Manhattan expansion.

Subutay Musluoglu February 9, 2015 - 1:55 pm

You show a lack of basic understanding of how NYC developed and grew as a city. Second Avenue did have an elevated line at one time, so people did not choose to intentionally live far away from transit. But to expand on that, if one was to follow your logic, we either build a rapid transit line down every street in existence, or we don’t live in cities. Rapid transit lines have a “catchment’ area, which is variable based a variety of factors, but it is not unusual for those living furthest away from a line to have to endure either a bit of a walk, or a bus aided journey. But that was not the case on the UES. You had an elevated line that existed on Second Avenue, which was built prior to the full residential and commercial build out of the Upper East Side. The line was supposed to be replaced by a subway, and then before the subway could be built, the one was prematurely torn down. So now you had people that used to live either right next door to a rapid transit line, or at the most, three blocks away on East End Avenue, which is not an unreasonable walk, is it? Anyway, the line is removed and for those who were already living up there, well their walk increased in length, and in the meantime development continued unabated without any new facility to handle the growth.

While I agree that there are a number of locations in the city where current development is being encouraged without adequate transit coverage to move the inhabitants, that was not the case beginning in 1913 and lasting up until the start of the Second World War. The subway and elevated lines built under the Dual Contracts were built specifically to relieve population overcrowding in the central core and encourage development in vast swaths of the outer boroughs that would now be served by new lines. Having said that, the subway was not built to its full extent, which is one of the reasons why you have substantial corners of they city – the Northeast Bronx, Northeast Queens, Southeast Queens, and Southeast Brooklyn – that fall outside the catchment areas of the outer branches of the subway system.

As for Long Island, the subway is not the solution there. The time has long come and gone for the LIRR to stop functioning like a 19th Century steam railroad, and become a true modern regional rail system to better serve the inhabitants of Long Island. If the subway is to be extended anywhere, it should be to the aforementioned underserved corners of the city, in conjunction with increased trunk line capacity and higher speeds to handle the growth in ridership.

adirondacker12800 February 9, 2015 - 2:15 pm

Expanding subways to Nassau would get the people who take the bus to the current terminal, off the bus. The bus would still run but it wouldn’t be as crowded. The people who drive would find another excuse to drive.

Bronx February 9, 2015 - 8:43 pm

Exactly, suburban areas are still going to be auto centric. Especially an area like Nassau. Makes more sense to rebuild the Third Ave elevated, you can go dense in the Bronx and the area already needs it. Also parts of BK and Queens need expansion well before expanding to the city limits or beyond.

ajedrez February 9, 2015 - 11:57 am

Keep in mind that the UES/Yorkville still has better transit coverage than a lot of other neighborhoods. I have to walk a half mile just to get to a bus in my neighborhood, let alone a train. The SAS isn’t just needed to improve the walking distance to the subway, but also for crowd control on the Lex.

Sam S. February 9, 2015 - 12:48 pm


The argument isn’t against extending transit access, it’s against expanding transit access with a ineffective mode of transportation.

Subway’s are an enormously efficient mode of transport, as are busses. Ben is asking why we would extend an ineffective mode of transit to serve, primarily, wealthy users who recently bought luxury condos.

I suspect if the city were proposing subway lines, we would feel differently.

anon_coward February 9, 2015 - 12:59 pm

the only reason for the 7 line extension was for the developers to build all those new luxury buildings in Chelsea to serve a few wealthy people who can’t be bothered to walk an extra block to the subway. Same with the SAS. you can even argue that East Side Access is a prelude to the upzoning of the area for developers to make even more money so that rich people don’t have to walk any longer than they have to.

and i don’t think you can build any subway stops by the water being that the tunnel is already sloping downward into the river bed. and why would you build a new subway line there when the G train is a mile away? why spend all that money digging subways to serve a few thousand people when you can simply use a boat?

Bolwerk February 9, 2015 - 1:23 pm

The SAS is reactive. It’s being built because density and demand require more capacity.

The 7 extension is (supposed to be) proactive. It’s being built to attract people to a development.

Be for or against either, it’s naught to be, but at least understand the difference.

Bronx February 9, 2015 - 8:34 pm

There’s going to be a major commercial district built above the Hudson Yards. That means tons of jobs, housing and taxes. It’s worth the construction (7). The SAS is going to relive the Lexington Avenue line.

These are worthy projects.

Eric February 10, 2015 - 3:04 am

Except that Hudson Yards was given massive tax abatements, so the city won’t actually see so much tax revenue from the development.

SAS is worth it though.

Bronx February 12, 2015 - 12:11 am

Far more development will spawn as a result of the Hudson Yards. It’s already happening.

Jeff February 9, 2015 - 9:38 am

There does seem to be some hypocrisy here.

Anything proposed for Staten Island for example (which has both working class and middle class residents by the way) gets dismissed by the same argument on this site and its posters.

Whereas there’s constant support for random expensive subway expansion projects in the four boroughs to residential neighborhoods that aren’t currently covered by transit.

anon_coward February 9, 2015 - 9:58 am

not even in the 4 boroughs. there is an endless supply of money to dig under manhattan so that we don’t disturb anyone there, but anything outside of manhattan the MTA only wants to build elevated lines saying they don’t have the money for tunnel work

Phantom February 9, 2015 - 10:41 am

Manhattan projects benefit all of NYC and all of the region

Staten Island projects generally would only benefit SI residents only.

Manhattan projects absolutely should come first ( if the economics work ) and I say that as one who has never lived there.

anon_coward February 9, 2015 - 10:47 am

manhattan is already crossed by more subways than any place on earth. and it wouldn’t be so bad except there are calls to tax people who live outside the subway footprint with no plans to build subways in those areas. and it’s taking money from improvements on other lines. and manhattan has less than 1/4 of NYC residents.

Alon Levy February 10, 2015 - 12:57 pm

London, Paris, and Tokyo would quibble with that. And, guess what? Paris, while spending most of its capital construction on an orbital rail network, is also building Metro and RER extension in city center. London is building Crossrail, right through Central London. Tokyo just built an el over another el right in its center to provide more commuter rail capacity, and has long-range plans to build a deep subway under all of Central Tokyo to relieve one of its overcrowded lines.

adirondacker12800 February 10, 2015 - 3:23 pm

In nice round numbers Manhattan’s population doubles on workdays. Those people have to have a way to get to their jobs that doesn’t involve parking an automobile near it.

anon_coward February 10, 2015 - 3:40 pm

and how many of them come from parts of the city or out of the city not served by transit? virtually every place in manhattan is already reachable with a 15 minute walk from a subway stop

adirondacker12800 February 10, 2015 - 4:40 pm

They have to be able to get on a train in suburbs whether that suburb is Jackson Heights or Wassaic. Once it gets to Manhattan it needs someplace to run.

Eric February 10, 2015 - 3:08 am

Most of the outer boroughs are built 1-2 stories high, while most of Manhattan is built 5-15 stories high. The extra expense of tunneling is not justified when you only have a fraction of the density and a fraction of the people will use it.

The question is why the outer boroughs refuse these elevated extensions.

anon_coward February 10, 2015 - 9:30 am


how many new riders are you going to get on the SAS who currently don’t use the subway? what about the 7 line extension? most of those people already live somewhere else and most likely use the trains

Alon Levy February 10, 2015 - 11:52 am

The ridership projection for SAS Phase 1 is 200,000 per weekday, which, per unit length, is 4 times as high as the current systemwide average.

Eric February 10, 2015 - 11:54 am

Noise is insignificant with modern concrete viaducts (unfortunately most NYers are probably not aware of this).

SAS will divert thousands of riders from the Lexington Avenue and M15 lines, making them faster and more pleasant to ride. This, plus the service SAS provides to West Midtown, will cause people to make thousands of trips they previously wouldn’t due to the unpleasantness of the trip. Each of these trips means more pleasure or economic activity. The increased capacity will also allow upzoning, meaning more tax revenue and more real estate supply (=lower rents) in Manhattan.

The Hudson Yards project will build skyscrapers where previously there was nothing – this certainly means new riders.

SEAN February 9, 2015 - 10:13 am

Unfortunately – the issue regarding SI is a perception that… residents want transit, but appose nearly every attempt of some kind of service improvements.

Bolwerk February 9, 2015 - 11:18 am

It’s not hypocrisy. SI is pretty hard to reach and hard to please to begin with. On top of that, doing anything for SI admittedly doesn’t even benefit the rest of the city that much. The result is pols like de Blasio and Bloomberg – who are almost the exact same person, BTW – tend to defer to the wishes of the local officials, who tend to be NIMBY Republikans.

This is opposed to projects like Tribourough RX or Rockaway reactivation, which at least rebalance the subway network. And the nearby residents are at least somewhat less liable to complain.

BenS February 9, 2015 - 11:26 am

Mainly because Staten Island (i) has a limited maximum ridership and (ii) despite claiming to support more transit, opposes any actual proposals that are made. Witness the rage about the Stapleton ferry, e.g.

ajedrez February 9, 2015 - 12:10 pm

If you know anything about Staten Island, you know that Stapleton is not a NIMBY neighborhood. It’s a fairly poor neighborhood that is pretty transit-dependent. The complaints are from people from other parts of Staten Island who realize that Stapleton is about a mile from the existing Staten Island Ferry, whereas much more isolated parts of Staten Island are completely ignored by this ferry plan.

If he wants to serve Staten Island, he could put it in practically any other neighborhood. People have been actively trying to get ferry service from either Princes Bay or Rossville. You could even put it somewhere on the North Shore (e.g. Port Richmond) if you want to serve a working-class area. But Stapleton is a terrible choice. A mile from the ferry, with multiple bus lines and the SIR as options to connect to it.

Ralfff February 11, 2015 - 6:54 am

Agreed. The Stapleton stop is a case in point of why this is a bad plan. I believe an earlier study on citywide ferry service was posted in this thread and that study was absolutely correct about Staten Island: that the only ferry connection should in fact be at St. George. Most buses terminate there, the SIR goes there, and there is already ferry infrastructure which is at the closest geographical point to Manhattan. The SIR and S40/S90 can outrun any ferry along their respective shores. The Staten Island Advance has always specialized in stirring up outrage among South Shore people who seem unaware that the overpasses they drive under carry functioning trains to the ferry but they should play no role in any decisions; when there was a free (!) ferry at Great Kills almost nobody showed up.

ajedrez February 14, 2015 - 12:22 pm

Actually, the ferry was $2, and as far as I know, there were no free transfers available to other modes. Additionally, the dock was over a mile away from Hylan Blvd (I think there was a free shuttle bus, but either way, it’s not the same as being in a dense area with good transit).

As for the S40/90 beating a ferry, eh, it’s debatable. A slow ferry like the existing SI Ferry, almost definitely. A fast ferry, maybe not. A trip from Port Richmond to St. George takes around 15 minutes, which for a 3 mile trip means the bus is moving at 12 miles an hour. (And then you have to count the transfer penalty).

I wouldn’t necessarily agree that the Staten Island Ferry should be the only ferry on the island, but I wouldn’t say it’s crucial to add more ferry service at this time. There’s much more pressing transit needs that need to be taken care of out here, like the lack of connections to New Jersey, and the lack of good service within the island. (I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and claim that all of Staten Island is the forgotten borough, but there are a lot of sections that are underserved in some way or another (e.g. busy corridors that could use all-day limited-stop service, areas without weekend service that have the demand, areas with circuitous, poorly structured routes, etc)

Michael February 10, 2015 - 2:25 am

It’s funny that just a few days I was looking at a job notice near Kingsborough Community College. I noticed that from my home, it would take 2 hours to travel between Staten Island and Kings Borough CC by the public bus system using 3-4 connecting buses. The same distance by car would take 31 minutes!

The Stapleton ferry idea is not exactly a one-seat ride but do able, considering the other public transit alternatives. And that’s the point. Except for the SI-Ferry or the MTA express buses or regular buses that use the NV-Bridge (a few express buses use the Geothal’s Bridge) there’s no other ways off the island by public transit.

So in this ferry proposal idea, there are folks on this forum claiming that certain routes are simply not needed, because some where some how in their minds Staten Island is an easy place to get to, get around, and making it utterly easy to get to other places in the other boroughs. An utterly laughable notion, but is really not a laughing matter.

It is these kinds of decisions that keep folks in their cars for all trips except that those that simply can not be completed by a car. It is really a catch-22 type situation – make public transit difficult to use – then folks won’t use it – then complain that huge numbers of folks do not use the service as a reason to further limit the service, then repeat the cycle.


Pat L February 9, 2015 - 11:05 am

In the long run, the cost per rider on these extensions will be much much lower than the cost of providing ongoing ferry service, and they will serve many more people.

Komanoff February 9, 2015 - 9:45 am

I’m puzzled that you didn’t mention Citibikes as a way for people beyond easy walking distance to access the proposed new ferries. Seems low-cost and a win-win.

SEAN February 9, 2015 - 10:21 am

Or better yet, bring your own bike & save the hassle if possible.

threestationsquare February 9, 2015 - 11:20 am

Given the disproportionate amount of space taken up by bikes on ferries and other transit, it’s really best if not too many people do that. (Of course it should be an option but it can’t be a solution for everybody or even the majority.) Whereas having enough Citibike docks for a large fraction of the ferry’s riders at each end is at least conceivable, without requiring the ferries to haul a lot of dead weight.

Bolwerk February 9, 2015 - 11:57 am

It’s probably almost moot. Commuters really don’t seem keen on using bikes in NYC, and even less keen on depending on bikes.

Alon Levy February 10, 2015 - 11:55 am

Only because they’re not suicidal.

Bolwerk February 10, 2015 - 12:38 pm

I guess, but it’s not like cycling hasn’t taken off recreationally.

Benjamin Kabak February 9, 2015 - 11:36 am

The simple answer is that I forgot. A fourth bullet — or really an addition to Point 2 — involves Citibike stations at either ends of the ferry routes and dedicated lanes leading to the ferry terminals.

SEAN February 9, 2015 - 11:49 am

You forgot? Shame on you! LOL

Komanoff February 9, 2015 - 12:03 pm

OK, put it (Citibike stations + routes) in! Preferably as standalone bullet? Thanks.

VLM February 9, 2015 - 12:08 pm

Preferably as standalone bullet?

Hilarious. Are you arguing that CitiBikes are somehow not otherwise a part of what Ben termed the “surface transit network”? Is this BS CitiBike exceptionalism?

You do realize too that CitiBike implicates a second fare structure as well? So while it may solve part of No. 2, it exacerbates No. 1 unless CitiBike users never take the bus/subway.

SEAN February 9, 2015 - 1:48 pm

You do realize too that CitiBike implicates a second fare structure as well? So while it may solve part of No. 2, it exacerbates No. 1 unless CitiBike users never take the bus/subway.

I repeat from above – or better yet, bring your own bike & save the hassle if possible.

threestationsquare February 9, 2015 - 10:40 pm

The “hassle” of… sticking a card in a slot? Compared to the hassle of storing your own bike, maintaining/repairing it when it breaks, and lugging it on and off ferries and trains?

Phantom February 10, 2015 - 8:32 am

citibike will never be a daily commuting option for most people in this city.

It is a niche service for the younger and fitter, in a city where it gets really cold and where there are hills and where protected bike lanes are rare in the central business areas.

sonicboy678 February 11, 2015 - 8:32 pm

At least you would be able to directly handle any issues if anything happens.

Of course, you should really consider if it would even be smart to bring a bike on a public vehicle.

Phantom February 9, 2015 - 10:44 am

The more I look at this map, the less some the routes make sense to me.

Especially the Bronx to E90 St and Stapleton Staten Island to Coney Island.

I guarantee that these routes will be very lightly used. They serve a need that simply does not exist.

threestationsquare February 9, 2015 - 11:32 am

There’s a political desire to provide ferry service to Soundview, which is currently quite poorly served by transit. But there’s not enough demand from Soundview to come close to covering or justifying the costs of ferry service, so they added some intermediate stops on the Upper East Side (where there are more people going to Wall St at rush hour and willing to pay an extra fare) to make the route pencil out better. It’s true that almost nobody getting on at Soundview will get off at E 90th, but that’s not necessarily a problem with the proposal. I don’t know what’s going on with the Stapleton proposal though.

ajedrez February 9, 2015 - 12:13 pm

There are plans to develop the waterfront (the whole home port project or whatever). It’s pointless, because it’s a mile from the existing Staten Island Ferry. I would much prefer the funds be used to improve service on that ferry, which connects to bus lines from all over Staten Island (all the bus routes that serve Stapleton also serve St. George).

Bronx February 9, 2015 - 8:37 pm

Soundview Avenue/Clason Point ferry should drop E 90th Street and E 62nd Street instead making a stop in Queens and Midtown.

Bolwerk February 9, 2015 - 11:02 am

Who benefits? I can count three obvious beneficiaries: it rewards developers (including their past developments), it subsidizes trips for affluent waterfront dwellers, and it creates some small number of jobs (which may please unions).

It avoids stepping on NIMBYs, as you say, and it basically ignores current transit riders.

TOM MURPHY February 9, 2015 - 4:48 pm

Ferry service is overly expensive due to federal restrictions on sourcing the vessels. Perhaps an Uber or Dollar ferry option might help there.

Of course, we’ll never be Venice. That serene city will disappear beneath the waves before Manhattan.

Matthew February 9, 2015 - 4:57 pm

The two most powerful voices for transit planning leadership in the city are Bill De Blasio and Andrew Cuomo, yet it seems that they both are completely out of touch when it comes to comprehensive, efficient transit planning. Why is that? Who is really calling the shots in their administration when it comes to these plans? Are they overwhelmingly politically driven? Is it just poor decision-making by their support staff? Is it as simple as them both being out of touch with the everyday needs of those who use NY’s transit systems? Michael Bloomberg may have lived in a wealthy bubble off Fifth Avenue, but he championed transit improvements. Under his administration, we saw the introduction of Select Bus Service, SAS Phase I beginning, the implementation of the Hudson Yards district and 7-train expansion, East Side Access, etc. Not everything was great, but the fundamentals weren’t as off as they seem to be now. Any thoughts?

Alon Levy February 10, 2015 - 11:58 am

Bloomberg championed the 7 extension, rather than useful transit. He could’ve pushed for SAS Phase 2, which costs more than the 7 extension but could get support from the state (since Shelly Silver supports SAS) and the feds (who kicked in some funding for Phase 1).

SAS Phase 1 was funded by the state, before Bloomberg came along. Credit there goes to Shelly Silver, who twisted Pataki’s arm in a deal where Pataki would get ESA for his constituents whereas Silver would get SAS for his.

Bolwerk February 10, 2015 - 12:40 pm

Didn’t Shelly try to obstruct it for a while because he didn’t want construction to start in Harlem?

adirondacker12800 February 10, 2015 - 3:20 pm

Shelly has decided to spend more time with his family.

Matthew February 10, 2015 - 5:39 pm

Bloomberg’s ability to move through with the 7-line extension in spite of the state’s reluctance demonstrated his ability to fund transit projects without state support–a means of financing that should be utilized by the current administration for worthy transit projects. Bloomberg is a businessman, so he understood how to leverage future economic gains to secure financing for the 7-line subway extension. This is an accomplishment that should not be overlooked, especially considering what the 7-line extension will mean for the Hudson Yards development district and the city as a whole in the long-term. Yes it was too expensive and had too many delays (what doesn’t these days?), but tying transit funding to transit-oriented development must be better embraced by city leaders in the future.

Phase II of SAS will come, but the combined cost of Phase I and Phase II was (and still is) too much to bear, especially considering the inability to lower that cost through the incorporation of large scale transit-oriented developments like the Hudson Yards. So I think it wasn’t imprudent to hold off on this (remember his term was supposed to end in 2009, and phase 1 SAS isn’t scheduled to open until “2016”). Nevertheless, the UES above 96th street has not only a subway (which of course is too crowded) and Metro North station, but also the recent 1st and 2nd ave SBSs (also championed by Bloomberg), which has been a great success.

And SAS was in the works long before Bloomberg was even born, my point being that under his administration, this stuff was happening. The MTA cannot afford its capital projects. Well what happened when the MTA couldn’t fund the 7-line extension? Bloomberg empowered a new city agency to issue bonds backed by proceeds from new construction in the Hudson Yards. If the city needs transit and the MTA cannot foot the bill, we need government leaders to step up in the same regard. What are De Blasio and Cuomo going to have to show for themselves when it comes to transit?

sonicboy678 February 11, 2015 - 8:37 pm

De Blasio doesn’t have the same level of clout as Bloomberg; Cuomo simply doesn’t care.

Alon Levy February 12, 2015 - 8:49 am

SBS? Really? First, it’s a bus that averages 12 km/h. It’s not useful for most commuters, and it’s especially not useful for people in East Harlem (not “UES above 96th Street”), since they have to travel longer distances to reach Midtown than the Upper East Siders do. Ridership projection for the completed SAS is 500,000 per weekday; current ridership on the M15 is a bit more than 50,000. There’s a reason for that. And second, it wasn’t on the radar in 2007, when Bloomberg decided Hudson Yards development is more important than subway service to Manhattan’s poorest neighborhood.

Metro-North exists, yeah. It’s infrequent and only serves Grand Central, and technically quite expensive, although in reality it’s easy to ride for free between Metro-North and Grand Central. It’s also far from the center of East Harlem. The Park Avenue viaduct is the western boundary of the neighborhood, and unlike Central Harlem, East Harlem is not centered on 125th Street but 116th, since 125th is at the northern edge of Manhattan at 1st and 2nd Avenues.

Tying transit funding to TOD is exactly the wrong way to go. It’s a regression to pre-modern ways of funding the government out of special fees, rather than broad-based taxes. Special fees are easy to waste, since they only fall on a narrow group of people. But income and sales taxes? If the government wastes money, taxpayer watchdog groups will call for people’s heads. It creates meaningful political competition, with other funding priorities and also with tax cuts, and this forces the spending to be more transparent and effective.

Finally, yes, the 7 extension’s cheaper than SAS Phase 2. So what? SAS Phase 2 could’ve gotten state money. In 2007, Silver was still a force to be reckoned with, and a supporter of the entire SAS project. In 2009 there was the stimulus, although in 2007 Bloomberg couldn’t know it exists – but there was general federal funding, before the era of Congressional Republican scorched earth tactics.

Llqbtt February 10, 2015 - 9:21 am

Without an alternative transit network, i.e. the feeder bus system that’s discussed here, it’s a ‘deck chairs’ approach. For example, if it’s the little ferry boats, you’ re taking maybe 10 people off a train, say the L,but at 34 St., you’re adding the same 10 people to the M34, an already crowded bus. Plus, if the trip is to be continued uptown or downtown, those 10 people are being added right back into a crowded subway line.

Lastly, the volume as seen in the example above is so minimal as to have no real affect to capacity.

Our leaders need to get together and discuss serious transit expansion in this city, whether that’s more subways, true BRT, or light rail. Heck even the gondolas probably help out more than a ferry!


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