Free Transfers Will Make or Break Ferry for Commuters

August 27, 2017

To the Editor:


Having watched our population outstrip the capacity of public transportation, I am thrilled to see, at long last, the resumption of ferry service to this East River Island. 


I remember when our aerial Tramway was not connected to the rest of our City transportation web and Island commuters, arriving at the 59th Street and Second Avenue Tram station, were obliged to pay a second fare if their place of business was not nearby. They mostly opted to take our overcrowded subway with the result that the Tram operated at a deficit every year.


In 2002, there was a “transit riders” meeting, scheduled by then-NYC Transit Authority President, Larry Reuter, intended for subway and bus riders with something on their minds. As there were no meetings for Tram riders, I invited myself and made a pitch for MetroCard service for the Tram, the last two-fare zone in New York City. I met with an enthusiastic endorsement from Mr. Reuter and took that support to a RIOC Board of Directors meeting which, coincidentally, met that same evening. Although then-President Rob Ryan was cool to the idea (“Oh, we’ve tried this before!”), others on the Board encouraged me to pursue the idea. Two years of meetings ensued, between Reuter and Ryan, and then between RIOC financial officer Pat Siconolfi and MTA MetroCard honcho Tom Savage. Having crunched the numbers, the icing on the cake came from our then-City Council Member (and Speaker of the Council), Gifford Miller, who sweetened the pot to the tune of $5 million, in payment to the MTA to reimburse them for the loss of revenue that would now accrue to RIOC. MetroCard service for the Tram began on March 1, 2004, a red-letter day in my book and, from the start, the Tram began operating in the black and has done so ever since.


This story has clear ramifications for the Astoria ferry line, as well as for the rest of the NYC Ferry system. If riders have choices, they will not opt to double their commuting costs by taking ferry service to Wall Street or 34th Street and then being obliged to pay a second fare to get to their destination. We have been told that the MetroCard system will be replaced by more current technology, and this is why it has not been incorporated into NYC Ferry service. What technology? When will it be implemented? No answers.


Given the imponderables of MetroCard replacement, I urge you to incorporate this system of free transfer to subway and/or bus service immediately. The success of ferry service may rely on its inclusion, and our history with the Tram supports this assertion. Please, learn from our experience and do the right – the essential – thing.


Matthew Katz


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