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East will meet West in free ferry service - Second [Pay] Ferry Service from Hoboken

By: Josh Rogers; Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio March 20, 2002

Among those waving from a ship named after Police Officer Moira Smith are Arthur Imeratore Jr., NY Waterway president, second from left, Gov. Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, and at far right, Charles Gargano, chairperson of the Empire State Development Corp.

A free ferry service connecting Battery Park City to the east end of Wall St. is expected to begin March 25 and run at least until the end of next year when PATH commuter service returns to Lower Manhattan. The new ferry shuttle along with a new fare route between Hoboken and Wall St.'s Pier 11, was announced March 14 at the East River pier, although it still has not been determined precisely where in B.P.C. the free route will stop.

NY Waterway, which will operate both routes, has been talking about using part of the North Cove Harbor for several weeks, but it is possible the free route could instead be run out of its existing ferry barge just north of the cove.

The day after the routes were announced at a press conference, officials with the Mayor's Office, the Empire State Development Corp., and the Port Authority met for the first time with Timothy Carey, president and C.E.O. of the Battery Park City Authority, to see if he would allow the ferries to dock at North Cove. Carey said that under the lease with the cove's operator, Watermark, the B.P.C.A.. has the authority to approve or reject any new uses for the cove.

"We raised a number of engineering, insurance, and legal problems as well as community concerns," Carey said March 18. The new free service would run every 15 minutes during peak times and, regardless of where it docks, would not displace the sailboats which are expected to return to North Cove this spring. However, Waterway's president, Arthur Imperatore, Jr., said down the road, recreational boats may have to be moved out of the harbor temporarily.

New York Gov. George Pataki, who controls the authority, New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Imperatore, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Joseph Picciano, deputy regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is paying for the new services, announced the routes March 14. "We are reclaiming our waterfront with fast ferry service," Pataki said. "We are going to reclaim it for parks and recreation." Bloomberg did not hesitate when he was asked if more boats would be added if demand warrants it. "Absolutely," said the Mayor. "You want to see crowds on the streets, and you're beginning to see crowds return to the streets of Lower Manhattan." He was not certain who would pay if additional service was needed, but FEMA's Picciano indicated the agency would be receptive to adding new boats. "We want to be here and we want to help," he said during the conference. Afterwards, he added, "we will consider all requests as they come in."

John Ruzich, Waterway's vice president of sales, said the new routes would cost about $2.5 million a month to operate. FEMA will deduct the money Waterway collects on the new Hoboken route and reimburse the firm to cover operating expenses and an undisclosed profit for the firm. The Hoboken route will cost $3 each way or $2.10 a trip for passengers who buy a monthly pass.

The new service will leave the Hoboken terminal, which was just expanded at a $4 million cost, every six minutes, down from every 20 minutes.

The free Downtown shuttle ferry will run every 15 minutes during the peak rush hour times and every half hour during off-peak. Ruzich said the service would run until 10 p.m. on weeknights, and he expected to have weekend service, although the firm is waiting to hear from the city as to if and how often the boats will run. It will take roughly 15 minutes to go between Wall St. and B.P.C.

Tom Fox, president of New York Water Taxi, which has been proposing to operate a route similar to that of the free service for over a year, said he was surprised to learn after consulting with all of the relevant government agencies, that the city and state decided to engineer a subsidy for Waterway.  We were just floored," Fox said. "As of last week, we were still talking to everyone about this. We were not privy to the details of 'phase one,' " of the ferry expansion plan.  "We have been talking since last September saying how important this is," Fox also said. "I'm glad they think it's important. We're surprised they decided to subsidize it with someone else."

Fox said if he had known a subsidy was possible, he and his chief investor, developer Douglas Durst, would have been able to lease boats for the new route as Waterway has done. He said he hopes that when his first two custom boats are ready in July, the city will consider switching to his firm since the boats will be fuel-efficient, have low-wake hulls and will be better-suited to North Cove.

B.P.C.A.'s Carey apparently agrees. After what he described as a "detailed and informative presentation" by Water Taxi, Carey added in a Jan. 14 letter to Fox: "[T]he Water Taxi will be a valuable transportation asset for residents and businesses in Battery Park City....   "From the Authority's perspective, either the North Cove or the [proposed] new Port Authority ferry terminal would be  ideal locations for you to land." And by presstime March 18, Carey was still waiting for assurances that the proposed Waterway service would not cause any engineering problems.

Fox's presentation about this service to start July 4 was warmly received by Community Board 1 two weeks ago. Board member Bruce Ehrmann said he even liked Fox's attempt at water taxis a few years ago, which Fox admits failed because he leased inferior boats. "It felt local, a little bumbling, but it was great," said Ehrmann. "It was just wonderfully great. A great way to get around cheaply."

North Cove

In a telephone interview, Waterway's Imperatore said contrary to published reports, he has no intention of permanently taking over the North Cove. "We don't want to be put in the North Cover frankly...," he said. "We are not looking to take over North Cove exclusively forever." Imperatore said officials with the Port Authority have indicated that while they construct a new permanent terminal, it may mean closing one of the two slips Waterway uses in the World Financial Center. If this turns out to be the case, Imperatore said he would need full use of the North Cove while construction was underway.

Waterway's general manager, Bill Bouffard, said last week, that the firm is simply responding to a call by government to accommodate the 65,000 daily PATH trips that were made to and from the World Trade Center station. "What we've been asked to do by the governors' and mayor's office is to substantially increase the ferry traffic to Lower Manhattan," Bouffard said. "In the next ten days, we're going to add nine more vessels. It's going to be trying to the system, but we're excited about it."

And many seemed to be just as excited. "It's thrilling," said Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff. "I have been a believer in ferries. We have 584 miles of coastline in New York, let alone New Jersey. We have always cut ourselves off from the water." 

Doctoroff said the ferry expansion will mean almost a full replacement of PATH service and an increase of 50 percent in the capacity of riders from Hoboken. "In a couple of months, we'll have additional service from Brooklyn to Queens," said Doctoroff. He was unsure of where those new routes would be, but Brooklyn Councilmember David Yassky, standing next to him, said routes connecting Lower Manhattan to Queens West, Greenpoint, and Downtown Brooklyn would be the most likely additions.

Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall said FEMA has also agreed to continue to pay for the free Bay Ridge-Whitehall Terminal route, which is run by the city and was quickly added after Sept. 11. Speaker Silver said the new service "is another symbol, a strong statement that the residents and the commercial communities will rebound and build better than ever."

Imperatore recalled that 16 years ago, people thought Waterway's founder, Arthur Imperatore, Sr., was nuts to bring back private ferries to New York Harbor. "When we started, everyone thought that we were - that my father was crazy, that ferries were antiquated and outmoded," the son said with his father standing nearby.

©Downtown Express 2002

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