Real Estate Snafu Sinks NYC Ferry Service in Greenpoint

The NYC Ferry, setting sail but not from Greenpoint. Photo: NYCEDC
The NYC Ferry, setting sail but not from Greenpoint. Photo: NYCEDC

Sail on the Oops John B.

Greenpoint has lost ferry service for three days and counting after the city was seemingly caught unaware about the sale of the India Street dock.

On Saturday morning, the ferry service tweeted that service in Greenpoint was suspended because of “temporary restrictions,” which turned out to stem from the fact that the land where the ferry docked was sold to Australian development firm Lendlease. (This is not the first time that Australian real estate interests, which were once accused of driving up home prices in Bushwick, have made trouble for north Brooklyn)

A spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which sets ferry routes and manages docks, said that that service interruption stemmed from an unresolved insurance issue.

“Both the ferry operator and landlord are actively working to resolve insurance coverage,” said EDC spokesperson Christopher Singleton. “EDC spoke with all parties [Monday] morning and anticipates resolution quickly with service restarting as early as tomorrow morning.”

The EDC did not respond to a follow-up question regarding how the snafu happened, who was to blame for the missing ferry service, or how come the city agency in charge of the mayor’s signature transportation initiative didn’t see any of this coming or pre-warn commuters who rely on the ferry. It is difficult to imagine, for example, the Department of Transportation suddenly eliminating service for hundreds of thousands of drivers on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in an insurance dispute.

City Council Member Stephen Levin tweeted that he was “livid” over the screw up and that he’d never been told that the city “didn’t have ongoing legal access to the pier” as the suspension of ferry service proved.

Mayor de Blasio was also in the dark about exactly how the city lost access to the India Street dock, telling reporters on Monday that “it’s a quizzical situation.”

By 12:30 on Monday afternoon, a shuttle bus was transporting uh, ferry riders between Greenpoint and Hunters Point South in Queens. But that only came after the situation was most hilariously captured by Elizabeth Adams, Levin’s legislative director and a candidate for his open seat in 2021, who got a video of a ferry employee shouting the service change to confused Greenpointers who’d made their way to the eighth-most popular ferry dock in the city. (The neighborhood itself has about 36,000 people in walking distance of the pier.)

The insurance issue is another black eye for the ferry service, which critics have called a distraction from more workable and equitable mass transit solutions from the moment the mayor put on the captain’s hat. The ferry system is one of the most subsidized transit options in the entire city, with Citizens Budget Commission analysis last year showing that even with more riders and additional routes, a ferry ride comes in at almost 10 times the cost of a subway or bus ride for city taxpayers. The high subsidy, the result of a $2.75 fare to match what landlubbing transit riders pay, has mostly benefitted riders making between $75,000 and $99,000 per year. The ferry also struggled with long lines and frustrated riders earlier this year due to returning crowds attempting to get on boats operating at reduced capacity due to coronavirus restrictions.

Stu Sherman and Lincoln Restler, both of whom also want to win the 33rd Council District seat, also got on Twitter to assure their potential constituents they were big mad about the lack of ferry service, calling it “absurd” and “incredibly disappointing.”

In addition, the Lendlease Group’s tweet celebrating the company’s acquisition of the ferry pier is currently being ratio’d by outraged New Yorkers demanding the return of their dock.

When will the tide turn? Stay tuned.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

What Would It Take to Run a Successful East River Ferry Program?

|
A few more details about the city’s new subsidized East River ferry service were revealed at a Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance panel yesterday afternoon, including the route’s stops and hours. Mostly, however, the panel offered advice on what it will take to make ferries successful and provided some valuable context for the public discussion about waterborne […]

Bus Rapid Transit, Not Ferry Subsidies, Would Help Struggling New Yorkers

|
In today’s State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio returned to his signature campaign issues of affordability and equity. Focusing mainly on housing, the mayor outlined a plan for growth centered around transit-accessible neighborhoods, and he recommitted to building several new Bus Rapid Transit routes. But de Blasio missed the mark with his big new transit initiative […]