The water in Glen Cove creek shimmered in the early-morning sunlight at 6 a.m. on Monday, with small waves rolling in behind the inaugural Long Island Rail Road ferry as it pulled up to the dock.
To help mitigate the delays and cancellations resulting from LIRR summer repair work, the City of Glen Cove offered the ferry terminal at 73 Garvies Point Road to be used as an alternate means of travel to Manhattan for commuters from July through September. The LIRR is honoring all valid tickets on the ferry service.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority managed to pull together the temporary service in less than a month, and Glen Cove city officials see it as a trial run for the permanent ferry they would like to see become a reality.
On the first day of service, about 100 passengers boarded the two ferries, which together can carry more than 300 people. The New York Cruise Line ferry left Glen Cove at 6:10 a.m. and headed to Wall Street, and the Patriot II, operated by National Ferry Company, departed at 6:35 a.m. for 34th Street.
Local leaders set their alarms a little earlier in order to make appearances at the dock. “It exceeded our expectations,” Deputy Mayor Barbara Peebles said. “We’re very fortunate that we were ferry-ready, [and] that the governor and the MTA looked for a way to help our local commuters. I think it’s going to build very strongly over the next few weeks.”
Several buses were on standby in case the ferries were overcrowded. And the Harbor Patrol was out on the water, escorting the ferries.
A few local businesses were also on hand. Glen Cove’s Panera Bread offered free coffee to the commuters, and David Shalam, owner of the new Heritage Bakers, handed out freshly made pastries. “I think this week I’ll definitely be out there with some samples to see who else comes,” Shalam said. “We’re trying to be open in the morning and afternoon to catch people coming back from work.”
Sea Cliff Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy, who did not support the ferry service, said that the ferries did not cause any additional traffic congestion in Sea Cliff on its first day of operation. “We maintain our concerns, but we’re pleased with what occurred today,” he said. “But they went out with less than one-third capacity.”
“If they made the ferry permanent,” said Cecelia Blihar, of Glen Cove, “we would take it to go to the city rather than the trains.”
Blihar dropped her grandson Mathew off at the ferry at 6 a.m. on Monday and waited for him to return 12 hours later. She reasoned that it was much more convenient to pick him up at the ferry terminal than at the Port Washington train station.
Matthew, 26, who works on Wall Street, said the ferry got him to work with plenty of time to spare. “It was very nice; it went really smoothly — just a nice ride overall,” he said. “Just nice views.”
Since he lives close to the terminal, he said he would have no problem getting there earlier in less-than-ideal weather.
“It left 10 minutes late, but it was a wonderful ride,” said Robert Ottaviano, of Glen Head, who added that he would use the ferry service in the rain as well. “I’m not doing it for a joyride, I’m doing it for a commute.”
Harbor Master John Testa said that to prepare for the day, the city met with the MTA, the LIRR, the U.S. Coast Guard, the police and fire departments and EMS units to discuss emergency procedures. “It’s amazing how much planning went into this whole operation, not only from the water perspective but from the land perspective,” Testa said. “Everybody worked together.” He added that Harbor Patrol would escort both ferries during their morning departures as well as their evening returns.
The city still plans to release a Request For Proposal for permanent ferry service in September, with ferries departing and returning three times a day, five days a week. Peebles said that the city would also like to see a recreational component to the service, with ferries operating off-peak on weekdays and weekends.
If the city were to implement permanent ferry service, it would no longer be under MTA jurisdiction, and ticket prices would likely change.
“This is an unexpected situation over the summer,” Peebles said, “but it’s a wonderful way to get feedback and data from this experience.”