Ferry schedule cut short
This sunset over the Great South Bay is a perfect metaphor for the cutbacks that were recently made to the Fire Island Ferries’ weekend schedule.

SCN/Chalifoux

Ferry schedule cut short

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
6/8/2017


FIRE ISLAND—In a move that has since generated a substantial amount of controversy and speculation throughout the region, the Bay Shore-based Fire Island Ferry Company chose last week to remove its 1 a.m. weekend ferry off its schedule. The announcement, which came in the wake of what had been a particularly rowdy Memorial Day weekend, has triggered responses from residents, passengers, local employees and neighboring ferry companies.

A letter was sent last Wednesday, May 31 to Ocean Beach Village Trustees from Mayor James S. Mallott and Fire Island Ferries president Tim Mooney. The letter states that after a “lengthy” meeting together, the two parties had “decided upon a mutual agreement to discontinue the 1 a.m. ferry out of Ocean Beach, effective immediately.

“We request that all visitors make travel arrangements accordingly,” concluded the letter.

In an ensuing Facebook post, the company said that utilizing that particular ferry has “[been] done so with enormous risk.”

“The 1 a.m. ferry has now morphed into a 1 a.m. of undesirables with no morals,” read the post.

As a result, the last boat to leave Bay Shore on Friday evenings will be at 10:30 p.m. The final boat to depart Ocean Beach on Friday evenings will be at 11:15 p.m. Meanwhile, the last boat to leave Bay Shore on Saturday evenings will be at 10:15 p.m., and the final ferry to leave Ocean Beach on Saturdays will be the 11 p.m. The 1 a.m. ferry departing from nearby Ocean Bay Park has also been terminated.

In addition, water taxi services back to the mainland will be limited in the future, with the last boat arriving at 11 p.m. and the last water taxi leaving Ocean Beach at 12 a.m. The Suffolk County Police Department stated that it would adjust their patrols to the newly altered schedule.

Over the past week, various parties have weighed in on the move, including representatives from other ferry companies. Stephanie Sherman – representing the Davis Park Ferry Company in Patchogue – said that they had given up their own 1 a.m. ferry “several years ago for some of those reasons,” including drunk and rowdy passengers. However, she also noted that their 1 a.m. did not attract nearly as many passengers as those over by Ocean Beach.

“I can absolutely understand – it’s not fun dealing with them,” said Sherman, who noted that their latest ride back to the mainland is now at 12 a.m. “The longer they stay there, the longer they drink, and the worse they get.

“We were getting fights, but people were also vomiting,” added Sherman. “Then the crew would get back to Patchogue and not be able to leave until 2 a.m. because they would be busy cleaning up the mess. We only have one bar over there anyway [The Casino in Davis Park], and just said it wasn’t worth it.”

Meanwhile, Sayville Ferry Company owner Ken Stein spoke of his reaction to the news, stating that he was “saddened, but not shocked.” He also voiced some of his own concerns regarding the shift. Prior to this season, Sayville Ferries had run the latest boat off all of Fire Island – a 2 a.m. ferry out of Cherry Grove. They then decided to cut the time down to 1 a.m. in order to alleviate some of their own issues with unruly passengers while also no longer being the last service to leave the island.

“If and when we had problems here it always seemed to stem from the 2 a.m.,” said Stein. “That extra hour was never any good and it seemed people were just stretching their limits. We cut down to 1 a.m. for multiple reasons – the No. 1, no doubt, being the safety of my crew along with the safety of the traveling public. So we got rid of that and thought that since we’d then be leaving at the same time as the Bay Shore Ferries, we could live with that.”

 However, that has now changed, and 1 a.m. out of Cherry Grove is once again the last ferry to leave Fire Island.

“Now we’re back to being the last boat, I’m concerned and have to watch very carefully how many people may come down via water taxi to Cherry Grove if they miss the ferry and the taxi service back to Bay Shore,” said Stein. “So I’m worried about two things: do they flood [my area] from the west via water taxi, or do they say, ‘hey let’s just originate out of Sayville’ and go from there? 

“It will be something to watch for and see what happens,” added Stein. “We are sensitive to the fact that we are now back to having the latest boat off the beach. It’s a title we do not want to own.”

Regardless, Stein expressed empathy for those at the Fire Island Ferry Company, and knew that the conditions over there had grown increasingly worse over the years.

“It’s unbelievable what that company goes through,” he said. “I’ve seen videos of things that have happened in the past over there. We’re not built the same way. We don’t have massive security on boats, don’t have the clientele to dictate that to happen, nor do I even want it.

“What I don’t like is that once the bars dump people out their doors, they have no more responsibility for those people,” added Stein. “Then all the aggravation goes to the employees who have them in a tight, contained spot for 30 minutes across the bay. Then it becomes [their] problem.”

Going forward, those referenced bars and businesses will likely face financial setbacks as a result of the shift, to the dismay of some owners and employees.

“I think that removing the 1 a.m. ferry will create more problems than act as a solution [and] I don’t believe at all that their intention will be fulfilled,” said one seasonal Ocean Beach bartender. “If people miss the 11 p.m ferry, where will they go? It’s illegal to loiter and sleep on the beaches. What about the seasonal workers who do not live on the island and relied on the 1 a.m. ferry to get home? Their shifts will be cut short and money will be lost to them. What needs to happen is a productive discussion amongst the community members and local business owners so that a real solution can be made that doesn’t hinder the majority of businesses and that will actually help to ensure more responsible alcohol consumption.”

As for ferry riders and patrons, they too will simply have to adjust to the changes that have been made.

“A lot of people that go there [these days] don’t really know what that whole Fire Island, Ocean Beach vibe is all about,” said Islip resident and longtime seasonal Fire Island visitor Frank DeRuvo. “Fire Island is a family place, but people have started to think of it as a trendy, Hamptons-style hangout, and it’s been taken too far. [The ferry company and village] putting their foot down is definitely a major move, and it’s unfortunately likely going to have a ripple effect on the bartenders and wait staff working in the service industry.

“I initially [wondered] how the village would survive without all of that extra revenue they rely on each year,” added DeRuvo. “But ultimately, it could push more people to drink and act more responsibly.”

Phone calls placed by this newspaper to Mr. Mooney and Mayor Mallott for comment were not retuned by press time.