Water Taxi Press Conference

Councilmember David Yassky at the NYWT press conference.

On Saturday there was a press conference at Schaeffer Landing to push for the preservation of NY Water Taxi service through the winter. The press conference was held by Council members Eric Gioia (Queens) and David Yassky (Brooklyn), and was attended by 30 or 40 water taxi patrons.

Between them, Gioia and Yassky probably represent 90% of the commuters on the water taxi. Both pols were pushing the Bloomberg administration to subsidize the water taxi to keep it operation. Gioia noted, quite rightly, that we should be “expanding water access, not cutting back”.

No doubt, the water taxi is an important adjunct to local mass transit. More important, though, it is an important perk for luxury waterfront development. As a frequent, though not regular, patron of the water taxi, I certainly hope that it will be back in business soon (like, next Wednesday). But before the subsidies start flowing, lets recognize some of the shortcomings of the water taxi, and see if maybe government can’t step in smartly.

First, the water taxi is not cheap. The current fare from Schaeffer Landing to Wall Street is about $5.00 each way if you buy tickets in lots of 10. There is a monthly commuter pass, but that costs just under $200.

Second, the water taxi is only convenient to places near the water. Unless you live AND work near a water taxi stop, you’ll need to add in the cost of a bus or subway, which will take your daily commute (round trip) to $14. So unless (like me) you live AND work reasonably close to the water taxi, a daily commute will run you 3.5 times the cost of a subway commute (even without the added cost of a subway/bus connection, the water taxi is 2.5 times the cost of mass transit).

Third, the water taxi runs hourly, three times in the morning and four times in the evening. The latest run out of Schaeffer Landing each morning is 9:20. Fine if you work banker hours, not so hot if you don’t.

That means that for the water taxi to be viable without a double fare, you probably live near the waterfront in northern Brooklyn Heights, southern Dumbo, southern Williamsburg, or southern Long Island City, and you work either in Lower Manhattan or in the far east 30s (Bellvue/NYU hospital area). But you don’t work any of the swing shifts at Bellvue/NYU, and you may not be one of the increasing numbers of non-fiancial types working in the financial district.

(And I’ll add in a fourth shortcoming – the water taxi is not always the most reliable means of transport. I’ve had it show up 40 minutes late for an evening run. And with no notice as to when the boat will actually show.)

All that said, the water taxi is a great resource. Between the JMZ and the water taxi (and the occasional ride across the Williamsburg Bridge), my reliance on the L train in the past year has become occasional at best. The JMZ is still the preferred means of transit (when I’m not on two wheels), but I take the water taxi about a third of the time. And it is by far the quickest and most relaxing way to get to the city – from Williamsurg, its 10 minutes to Wall Street (about 3 minutes from Fulton Ferry) – and the whole way you are able to sit back and watch the city float by.

But taking into account all of the above, how should we city subsidize the water taxi (if it should). First off, I think that the people that should be stepping up to the plate with wallets open are the developers and condo associations of waterfront property. The developers have sold (or are selling) their luxury units on the basis of convenient access to the city via water taxi. They (and the condo owners themselves) have the most to lost if the water taxi disappears, or (just as bad) becomes a seasonal means of transport. So in terms of direct subsidies to keep the water taxi running all year long, most, if not all of any subsidies should be coming from them.

The city, though, should recognize the value of the water taxi. It takes commuters off already crowded subway lines (like the L and the 7). It makes previously remote areas of the city more accessible and more open to new development (and the more profitable those developments are, the better they will be able to support the affordable housing components that are part and parcel of the development). What the city should try to subsidize is a viable water taxi system that integrates with the existing mass transit system (i.e., free transfers), expands service (i.e., longer hours) and makes the service more affordable (i.e., lower fares in general).

In terms of lowering fares, the city’s help here should be temporary. As water taxi service expands, and more waterfront developments come on line, basic economics says that the cost per ride should come down. How far it comes down is another question, but it should come down. But until the water taxi achieves that level of viability, there is a public interest served in subsidizing service (even if it be through loans rather than direct subsidies). Until then, I’ll be taking the J train or (weather permitting) the bridge.

More here:
Pol urges Mike to shore up river taxi [NYDN]
Lawmakers call on city to subsidize water taxis [7Online]
Local Lawmakers Call On City To Offer Water Taxi Service [NY1]
Lawmakers call on city to subsidize water taxis [Newsday]

4 responses to “Water Taxi Press Conference”

  1. NY Waterway goes it alone receiving NO government subsidy (it was discussed in 2004). NYWW fares are increasing tomorrow.
    Waterway’s new fares make Water Taxi look like a deal. Should taxpayers close the gap? I think not.

  2. Well said! I hope someone listens.

  3. Ray –
    I think that the city should also work to make NY Waterway more viable – again by doing things such as implementing ferry to subway transfers. Since NYWW serves mainly (only?) New Jersey, providing transfers could help keep cars out of the city. Likewise with NYWT’s Brooklyn Army Terminal service. These routes service car commuters, but keep the cars out of the city (as opposed to NYWT’s East River service, which is probably more of a subway replacement).
    The bottom line for me is that taxpayers should make these ferry routes more viable to more people. Any gap closing should be temporary, and should come after private “subsidies” are exhausted.

  4. I touched on a lot of the same points from a Queens perspective in a blog post last week:
    I’m glad to see that other people are thinking along the same lines. The one factor that I mentioned that I don’t see here is connecting bus service, like New York Waterway provides. It’s probably less of an issue in Brooklyn than in Queens.