The good news is that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – at the urging of local officials – has agreed to establish weekend ferry service from Jersey City to lower Manhattan to make up for the closure of PATH service between Exchange Place and The World Trade Center.
The bad news is that it will only last six weeks, after which the Port Authority will decide whether to continue it.
This means, according to City Councilwoman Candice Osborne, if people don’t use it, they may lose it.
The PA has agreed to initiate a six-weekend pilot ferry service between the Paulus Hook Terminal in Jersey City and the World Financial Center Terminal in New York, starting March 29-30, for weekend riders who would normally use PATH between New Jersey and lower Manhattan.
BillyBey Ferry Company, operating under the NY Waterway banner, will provide the service under a contract with the Port Authority, with the service automatically ending the weekend of May 3-4 unless the Port Authority decides there is sufficient ridership to continue.
“The closure also presents potentially crippling impacts on Jersey City’s economy.” – Candice Osborne
Weekend ferry service during the pilot program will run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and may be adjusted according to demand levels. Travel time between terminals is approximately seven minutes and ferries will depart every 15 minutes, beginning with the 8 a.m. departure from Paulus Hook. The last ferry will depart Paulus Hook at 9:45 p.m. and the World Financial Ferry Terminal at 9:53 p.m. One boat will be traveling back and forth between these two terminals.
Change was a concern
The change concerned Osborne and other local officials because the closing not only adversely affected ridership from New Jersey to New York, but also tourists and other trade coming the other way.
“Our residents rely on the Newark to World Trade Center PATH route as their only reliable means of direct weekend access to New York City due to the Hoboken detour on the 33rd Street line,” Osborne argued in her communication with the PA after hearing about the closures.
She noted that PA study done in 2012 showed that 4,750 riders enter Exchange Place and 15,626 enter the World Trade Center PATH stations between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturday alone.
“A conservative estimate mans that more than 10,000 people per weekend would be affected at Exchange Place and 30,000 at The World Trade Center,” she said. “That does not take into account several other PATH stops in Jersey City, Harrison, and Newark.”
The Exchange Place and World Trade Center stations will be closed most weekends throughout 2014, to repair damage caused by Superstorm Sandy and to perform other unrelated work. The PA said the closure is required to meet a December 2015 deadline for improvements required by the federal government.
Until this recent move by the PA, NY Waterways did not run ferry service in Jersey City on weekends, and Osborne noted that private ferries run no more frequently than a half an hour between each, and cost twice as much as a PATH fare.
Travel time for those opting to take the Hudson Bergen Light Rail to the PATH station at Pavonia/Newport will not only increase the overall cost of travel to lower Manhattan – adding the cost of a light rail ticket on the Jersey City side and a subway ticket on the New York side – but also increase the time it takes to get there because on weekends the PATH line is diverted to Hoboken.
In an agreement with NJ Transit, PA managed to get the fee for the light rail waved.
“The closure also presents potentially crippling impacts on Jersey City’s economy,” Osborne said.
People from New York may find the trip through Hoboken so unbearable they might not bother to make the trip again.
“People shop for homes on weekends,” she said. “Their inability to find reliable transportation to Jersey City will impact our real estate market unfavorably.”
A newspaper article altered local officials
Osborne said she, Mayor Steven Fulop, County Executive Tom DeGise, councilmen Michael Yun and Richard Boggiano and others got together to develop a united strategy to get the problem solved.
One of the key people was Michael Zahn of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, who was instrumental in getting a grant to help subsidize the ferry service.
“Fortunately for us, Tom DeGise became a member of that authority this year and was able to make the right connections,” she said.
Local officials tried to get the closures delayed for six weeks while alternative plans were made.
“That didn’t happen,” Osborne said. “But we asked for flyers to be handed out at the PATH station and that did happen. So did the cross-honoring of PATH tickets on the light rail.”
Originally, local officials wanted there to be no charge for the ferry, but since there had to be a fee they managed to limit it to the cost of a PATH ride.
“But people need to use the ferry service,” she said.
PATH officials will report each weekend’s ferry ridership early the following week to help the public and agency gauge use of the service throughout the pilot program. Ridership levels will be evaluated on a weekly basis, to determine whether this six-week pilot program should be extended.
For ferry alerts and advisories, please see the NY Waterway website’s alerts and advisories page: http://www.nywaterway.com/AdvisoriesAlerts.aspx
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.