THE COMMUTE: If you ride the subways daily to lower Manhattan, you already know about the closure of the Montague Street tunnel, since the beginning of August. You also likely know that it will remain closed until October 2014 when repairs as a result of Hurricane Sandy damage will be completed, something we first reported last June.
As a result of this closure, there is no through R service from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The R is split into two services. On weekdays, the Brooklyn R terminates at Court Street-Borough Hall and the Manhattan and Queens R terminate at Whitehall Street-South Ferry. On weekends, the R is rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge, leaving Jay Street-MetroTech and Court Street-Borough Hall without service. Those needing the closed stations in Brooklyn or in lower Manhattan can transfer at Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center for one of the numbered lines. Your other choice is to stay on the Q to Canal Street and take the R back to one of the stations in Lower Manhattan. None of this is clearly explained on the MTA website, which just shows alternate stations available in the vicinity of the closed stations but does not give clear directions how to access these stations.
As I stated in my many articles about signage, the MTA needs to imagine itself as a tourist when providing signage and public information, which it does not. How many occasional riders will find themselves stranded at DeKalb Avenue? There, they will be looking for alternatives to R stations in Lower Manhattan or a way to access the A or C trains and will be told to travel back one stop to Atlantic Avenue for the IRT since no transfer exists between the DeKalb Avenue and Nevins Street stations. This unnecessary inconvenience can be avoided through better signage and public information.
The Ferry Alternative
One alternative the MTA does not let you know about is that there is a ferry service for commuters during the a.m. and p.m. peak from the Brooklyn Army Terminal, located at First Avenue and 58th Street, to Lower Manhattan at a cost of only $2 each way. This is the same ferry from the Rockaways we already told you about, which now makes a stop at the Brooklyn Army Terminal due to the closure of the Montague Street Tunnel. It will operate at least through the end of January 2014, when hopefully it will be renewed.
Additionally, there are hundreds of free parking spaces at the Army Terminal available for ferry users, and for the same $2 you can transfer in Lower Manhattan to another ferry, to 34th Street.
So why does the MTA not inform its riders about the ferry alternative? I can think of several reasons. First, they do not want you to know about it because they view the ferry as competition and a loss of revenue for them. Second, it’s another example of their myopic thinking where they view it as not their job because they do not provide the service so they may have just not considered it important.
Although the MTA was created to provide a regional transportation network and coordinate all forms of mass transit, they have failed in that goal. Witness how many years the MTA refused to include bus operations provided by private carriers on their bus maps because they did not want to encourage the use of express buses and lose subway riders.
The city, which is responsible for this ferry service, is doing just as poor a job in publicizing this service, which they claim they want to succeed. To get more information about this ferry service you already have to know that it exists. Let’s say you have heard about this service and go to the NYCDOT website to obtain more information. These are the steps involved:
- Find the NYCT DOT website by going to www.nyc.gov and looking up DOT, or go directly to the DOT website at www.nyc.gov/dot
- Click “Ferries and Buses” on the left
- Click on “Find Information About Private Ferries”
- Click on Ferry Operators
- Scroll down to “Seastreak,” the operator of the ferry, with the description “Seastreak operates service between the Rockaways and Manhattan, between Monmouth County and New York City, as well as baseball ferries and other seasonal service.” Notice no mention of Brooklyn, so you already have to know that the service exists to learn more about it.
- When you click on the “Seastreak” link, you have to wait for “Rockaway to BAT” to appear on the screen, which alternates with other services like service to Martha’s Vineyard,” then you have to click on that ad to obtain the schedule.
There is no information regarding which bus routes serve the ferry, if any. Or, that for $2 additional, you can get on a shuttle van from subway stops in Bay Ridge from 25 to 40 minutes prior to each departure, as reported by the Brooklyn Paper.
Shame On The City, The State And The MTA
When you consider all the money the state spends to advertise the New York State Lottery, it is a shame that other than a few articles in local newspapers and a quick mention on TV, the only publicity this ferry has received is through word of mouth and fliers handed out by the office of Councilmember Vincent Gentile. Then government wonders why ferries such as this become victims to low ridership and ultimately fail. They provide no bus service to the ferries (something the MTA won’t even consider) and charge extra for van service, which Seastreak, the ferry operator, does not even mention on its website.
One has to wonder if government even wants this ferry from Rockaway and Brooklyn to Lower and Midtown Manhattan to succeed, given the lack of promotion, although there have been many favorable accolades from the few riders it does have. After all, the ferry is subsidized to the tune of $18 per head, given the current number of riders and existing levels of service. Mayoral hopefuls, such as Christine Quinn, continue to promote ferry service in their campaigns for mayor, but what has Quinn done to convince the city, state or MTA to promote this ferry, which is a well-kept secret by the city?
Next week we will discuss the possibility of the Brooklyn Army Terminal becoming a major transit hub.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA / NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
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