More than 13 years after ferry service ended in Glen Cove, workers are finishing construction on a new terminal that city officials hope will lead this summer to the only commuter boat service between Long Island and Manhattan.
Project boosters predict that many who now ride the train or drive to work will flock to an alternative that could cut travel times substantially for some. But experts say the ferry’s viability will depend on its price, speed, convenience and frequency, and on the proximity of parking to the terminal — all elements that are still unknown.
“The broad idea is good,” said Donovan Finn, an urban planner at Stony Brook University. “But the devil is in the details. Getting people to change what they’ve been doing for years or decades is difficult.”
Ferries ply several routes between New Jersey and Manhattan, and there are boats that connect Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island with Manhattan. But the few attempts over the past several decades to run commuter vessels between Long Island and Manhattan have ended in failure.
The 2001-02 Glen Cove ferry service foundered because of inadequate promotion and other missteps by Fox Navigation, a now-defunct enterprise run by Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Glen Cove Deputy Mayor Barbara Peebles said. Mashantucket spokeswoman Lori Potter said high operating costs and low ridership led Fox to end service.
Soon after that ferry’s demise, Glen Cove officials began planning a new service. In 2012, the city finished work on a $14.6 million dock and boat basin. Construction on the $4.3 million terminal is scheduled to end this month, Peebles said. Both projects were built mostly with federal funds.
Glen Cove hopes to inaugurate service to lower Manhattan and midtown in the early summer, Peebles said as she stood on boards that protected the terrazzo floor of the ferry terminal during construction. The city expects to solicit ferry operators in the next few weeks.
Travel time likely would be roughly 50 minutes to midtown and 60 minutes to Wall Street, Peebles said. Also planned are charter services. Future destinations could include Citi Field and Yankee Stadium.
The ferry is closely linked to a separate planned $1 billion private waterfront development next to the terminal. When finished, the project, called Garvies Point, would include 1,110 condominiums and apartments, along with stores, parks and restaurants.
Yet occupancy of the first residential units is not expected until 2018. The waterfront project will provide some of the ferry’s ridership base but “regardless of the development, we know there already is a pent-up demand,” Peebles said.
The 2001-02 ferry service at first was three times a day in each direction but then was cut to once daily.
A viable service has to offer multiple daily trips, because of commuters’ varying and sometimes unpredictable work schedules, said Gerry Bogacz, planning director for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, a regional planning group that published a 2005 report concluding that Glen Cove-to-Manhattan ferry service could be feasible and profitable.
“If they fear they’re going to get stranded, they’re not going to take the service,” Bogacz said.
But, Finn said, there cannot be too many runs, especially at first, or fares would be prohibitively expensive.
“They have to find that sweet spot, where they offer enough at the right time, with the right amenities and the right cost, but not too many,” he said.
City officials say some Long Island Rail Road riders could be lured to the ferry by shorter, more convenient trips.
Most LIRR commuters interviewed on a recent morning rush-hour train from Glen Cove to Jamaica station said they would consider the ferry.
James Bilello, 23, of Glen Cove said a ferry direct to lower Manhattan, where he works three days a week at a financial firm, is appealing because he could get to his job without transfers. Currently, he spends 1 1⁄2 hours to get to work in Battery Park City, taking one train to Jamaica, another to Penn Station and then a subway train.
But Bilello said he won’t pay much more than what he shells out now: $26 for a peak-hour LIRR round-trip ticket and $5.50 round trip for the subway. Monthly LIRR tickets are $287; 30-day New York City subway and bus passes are $116.50.
“I can’t afford any more than that,” said Elana Blumenfeld, 36, who buys both monthly passes to travel from the Sea Cliff station in Glen Cove to her midtown office and would consider a ferry if it were less time-consuming.
A recent city survey of 237 potential ferry riders found that 74 percent would not pay more than $25 for a round-trip ticket; the rest would be willing to pay up to $35.
Some existing commuter ferries from New Jersey to lower Manhattan and midtown cost much more than $25. Seastreak’s ferry from Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, costs $45 round trip, or $32.75 round trip when bought in a 40-trip package for $655. Those journeys are usually 40 to 60 minutes.
Seastreak president Jim Barker said a Glen Cove-to-Manhattan ferry likely would have fares between $500 and $655 a month, depending on the type of boat. Peebles said $655 for slightly less than a month of round trips would be too expensive.
Another issue is parking. There is room for 108 spaces next to the terminal, along with nearby street parking, although planned construction could temporarily take away many street spaces. Another lot — on which the city is seeking funding to build a parking garage — is about a third of a mile away. There may be a shuttle from there to the terminal, Peebles said.
Bogacz said a shuttle could be a turnoff for some, because research shows commuters prefer as few transfers as possible. The city survey found that only 60 percent of respondents would take a free shuttle.
Steve Gheerhow, 46, a manager for a midtown nonprofit who rides the LIRR from Oyster Bay to Penn, said he’d consider the ferry, but not if he must ride a shuttle.
“I wouldn’t want to deal with it — not in the morning,” he said.
A third of a mile walk also could lose potential riders, Finn said.
“A third of a mile is a little at the outside of what most people would consider a quick walk,” he said, adding that the far corner of the lot would be even farther.
Seastreak’s Highlands and Atlantic Highlands docks each have free, adjacent parking. Barker said a shuttle in Glen Cove could work if it were fast and frequent. He said parking would be a key factor as to whether he would apply for a Glen Cove route.
Seastreak was one of three ferry companies represented at an informational session on the ferry several months ago.
New York Water Taxi, which also was there, may apply for the route, but first wants to know the city’s terms, said company executive vice president Peter Ebright. The third company, New York Waterway, is not actively looking at Glen Cove, said spokesman Patrick Smith.
Uniondale-based RXR Realty, developer of Garvies Point, has agreed to spend as much as a million dollars, if necessary, to operate ferry service for up to two years or help subsidize another company’s service.
Frank Haftel, director of the Garvies Point project for RXR, said the ferry would make the condos and apartments more attractive, especially to potential residents who work in Manhattan.
“It’s a great amenity,” he said.