Glen Cove officials are viewing the temporary Metropolitan Transportation Authority ferry service that begins Monday as a crucial test run for the long-term commuter boat routes to Manhattan that the city has been planning for years.
The temporary ferries are scheduled to run for less than two months to help commuters facing reduced Long Island Rail Road service during summer construction at Penn Station.
Experts say the ferries could help gauge future demand for year-round ferry service and reveal potential glitches — although ferry critics view the temporary service as a best-case scenario that will offer few clues as to how long-term routes from Glen Cove would fare.
Glen Cove Deputy Mayor Barbara Peebles said the temporary runs will help the city pitch long-term service.
“This is absolutely the best trial run I could have ever dreamed of,” she said. “We’re going to have fantastic data from this temporary ferry service.”
City leaders have been hoping to reinstate ferry service since shortly after now-defunct Fox Navigation ended the last attempt at a regular route in 2002, after less than a year and a half, citing low ridership and high costs. City officials contend the failure was because of Fox missteps.
A new ferry terminal was completed in 2016. Seven ferry operators expressed interest in a Glen Cove route last year, but none submitted a formal proposal. The city extended the deadline for a request for proposals until September, hoping that more details on parking and fewer hassles related to construction of the adjacent Garvies Point housing, commercial and recreational development would make the route more attractive.
One of the two ferry companies operating the temporary service, New York Water Taxi, initially expressed interest last year in a long-term route.
Donovan Finn, an urban planner at Stony Brook University, was struck by how the MTA is funding an experiment that will give the city invaluable information in developing a long-term ferry service that would be expected to draw many of its passengers from the LIRR.
“Their own competitor has basically dropped an opportunity to kind of beta-test this in their lap,” he said.
The temporary service won’t mirror what the city wants in the long term. There will be only one morning boat to Wall Street and one to 34th Street, with late afternoon and early evening returns; the city wants at least three round trips. City officials also are hoping the permanent trips will be about 20 minutes shorter than the 70 minutes the MTA has scheduled to 34th Street and the 80 minutes to Wall Street.
In addition, the parking that Garvies Point developer RXR Glen Isle Partners is providing for the temporary service, in addition to a 108-space terminal lot, is closer to the terminal than the likely location of permanent ferry parking.
Roland Lewis, president and chief executive of the Manhattan-based Waterfront Alliance, which supports increased use of commuter ferries, said the temporary service is not “an apples-to-apples” test of a permanent route.
But, he said, “if a lot of people show up to try it, I think it’s an indicator there’s a future there for ferry service.”
The MTA is allowing anyone with a valid LIRR pass or ticket to ride the ferry. But an operator of New Jersey-to-Manhattan ferries that last year looked into a Glen Cove route told Newsday then that a monthly Glen Cove ferry pass could cost double what an LIRR pass costs, currently $297.
Even so, Finn said, the test runs are “creating, potentially, a user base for the ferry,” and some of those riders may decide they’d be willing to pay more for the ferry if they find the service more convenient and pleasant.
Lewis said that, as with most ferries, as well as the LIRR, government subsidies would be needed to make Glen Cove ferry service affordable and viable.
RXR, which views a ferry as an amenity for residents of the 1,110 condos and apartments it is building at Garvies Point, says it would, if necessary, spend up to $1 million to help subsidize a ferry for up to two years.
Glen Cove Mayor Reginald Spinello said it’s too early to say whether a longer-term subsidy would be needed, but he said there are no plans to ever spend city tax money on subsidies, although seeking federal or state grants could be an option.
Bruce Kennedy, village administrator for neighboring Sea Cliff, which has environmental, traffic and other concerns about any ferry from Glen Cove, said the temporary service benefits from an almost ideal situation: LIRR problems, summer weather, nearby parking and prices identical to the LIRR.
Commuters, he said, would be less enthused about walking a longer distance in the February cold for a more expensive ferry ride, and with the train nearby as an option.
After construction, he predicted, “the Long Island Rail Road will still be more reliable, have more frequent service and operate at a fraction of the cost.”