Bayonne wants more than anything to join the ranks of the ferry-serviced cities in Hudson County. Weehawken was first when Arthur Imperatore, a trucking magnate, bought 2.5 miles of Weehawken waterfront in 1981, partly from the bankrupt Penn Central railroad, to redevelop for ferry access, which opened in 1986 when Imperatore founded NY Waterway. Since then, 13 ferry terminals have been chartered in four “Gold Coast” cities – Edgewater, Weehawken, Hoboken, and Jersey City.
The Gold Coast, a term for valuable waterfront property along Hudson County’s eastern shore, can easily extend to Bayonne’s Military Ocean Terminal Base (MOTBY) if and when a ferry terminal comes.
That goal may be inching closer every day. The City is working constantly to sign on developers, which will help stoke commuter demand.
Unleash the impact study
After a meeting with the Port Authority of NY and NJ, Bayonne has agreed to take part in an impact study to determine future demand for the ferry service, a big and necessary first step. The City believes there is enough demand for a ferry, and it hopes the impact study proves it.
“We’re going to go out and study the area, study the demographics to make sure that what we all believe is valid,” said Bayonne Business Administrator Joe DeMarco. The study, which DeMarco estimates will take three to four months, will analyze and identify the number of people likely to use the ferry service and where they are traveling from.
DeMarco said the talks are still in the most preliminary stages, but conducting an impact study is a big milestone. The City has never made it this far.
“It’s a very sophisticated mass transit system. There’s enormous potential there.” – Pat Smith
Even though the City is in talks with the Port Authority, the agency does not operate its own ferries. The City is looking for a plot of land and water on the base suitable for a ferry, but 130 acres of MOTBY’s northern shore was sold to the Port Authority in 2010. Now, the City does not own any land with water that is deep enough for a ferry, so it might need to lease it back. And it is unclear how much of the land it will lease back, not just for the terminal, but for a broader development plan on the base. DeMarco said he could not comment on how much PA land the City intends to lease.
“We want to work out an agreement with the PA,” said DeMarco. “Then we go out to the market and request qualifications, find a reputable qualified operator who wants to operate a ferry that would benefit residents and commuters.” Financial agreements, terminal designs, lease agreements, and the like would be the final step in the process.
The most likely operator would be NY Waterway. With 4.6 million riders in 2016, and a 5.3 percent increase from 2015,demand for ferry service (and all public transit for that matter) generally seems strong.
MOTBY is an ideal location for a ferry. Thousands commute from and through Bayonne to Manhattan and Jersey City daily. A ferry would relieve the anticipated increase in rider volume on the Hudson Bergen Light Rail as a result of urbanization, while attracting new residents and developers.
Pat Smith, a spokesperson for NY Waterway, said that the ferry service company is “looking into services that go from Bayonne, to Staten Island, to west 39th street in Manhattan.” Smith said any potential route would probably not go directly to Manhattan, but rather make a stop at St. George Ferry Terminal on the north shore of Staten Island, then go to 39th Street in Manhattan.
“That would create enough demand to warrant the services,” said Smith. “There are [single-stop terminals] you can go with enough passengers, but you can’t just build one. With other places, you need two stops to make it viable.” The impact study is designed to provide officials the knowledge to make sound decisions.
Smith confirmed that plans are still “very tentative” and there is “no specific development yet.”
Leaving room for a Gold Coast dream, Smith said, “It’s a very sophisticated mass transit system. There’s enormous potential there. There’s a symbiotic relationship [between development and transit]. Good transit encourages development. And development puts the customers into the transit system.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.