Commuting

One Year Later: The Controversial Ban of the 1a.m.Ferry

By Ciara Dennehy

The decision to discontinue the Saturday night 1a.m. ferry from Fire Island’s Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park last summer was a big change that many felt could be detrimental to the Fire Island Ferry company, as well as local bars and restaurants. One year later, as community members prepare for the upcoming season, people are reflecting on the impact the discontinuation has had so far.

The 1 a.m. ferry started  running on Saturdays during holiday weekends in the early 1990’s. It was designed to reduce the number of people hanging out in the streets late at night. Eventually, it started running every Saturday night during the summer. That changed after Memorial Day weekend last year due to fights that were breaking out on the ferries throughout the weekend.

Fire Island regulars have been divided over the decision ever since.

“When the 1a.m. ferry was established, it was well grounded in need,” Scott Hirsch, owner of  The Fire Island Mermaid, a bar and restaurant in Ocean Beach, said. “At the time, and a long time thereafter, it did a lot more good than harm. It served a strong need for the community to get people off the island. Somewhere along the lines the pendulum swung and the boat became more of a potential issue. Rowdiness was an unintended consequence of the late ferry.” Hirsch said.

Many people were angered by the discontinuation of this ferry because the latest ferry on a Saturday went from 1a.m. to  11:15 p.m. This meant that unless people were sleeping on the island, their night had to be cut short.

People also assumed that businesses were going to suffer being that two hours of Saturday night business was being compromised. After one summer, there was already a noticeable difference.

“You definitely saw a change in the craziness at night, even in towns neighboring OB [Ocean Beach] and OBP [Ocean Bay Park],” a Fire Island [and Suffolk county] police officer said. “I know a lot of residents like that, as for the businesses I’m not sure how they feel about the change,”


 

 

From a business standpoint, Hirsch had a positive outlook on the discontinuation. Hirsch, who has owned The Island Mermaid for the last 28 years, said that he hopes more residents and community members that have roots on the island and respect for the island will be the ones coming to the establishments to have fun.

“I like to refer to it [the discontinuation of the 1 a.m.] as a ‘tasteful tilting’,” Hirsch said. “Another hope is that people will like the ‘new-old’ vibe that Fire Island had 15 to 20 years ago. Back then, more people would go out for a night of dinner and dancing.”

Employees on Fire Island whose income is primarily tips were affected by this ban as well.

Allyssa Mikes has worked in Ocean Beach for the past five summers. Mikes said that when she was younger, her boss at the time would do everything he could to get her on the 11:15 p.m. ferry home, because he didn’t want a 16-year-old girl to be on the 1 a.m. boat alone.

“Having worked at Michael’s Ristorante [an Italian restaurant and late-night pizzeria] the last five summers, I have personally seen the differences in crowds that take the 11:15 p.m. boat or the 1a.m.,” Mikes said. “As chaotic and disorderly these later customers are, they provide a lot of business.With the removal of the 1 a.m., we lost that 12:30 a.m. rush, which was a significant amount of business as well as tips.”

Despite the decline in tips and late night customers,  she does understand the reason behind the ban.

“The quality of the atmosphere across the town improved as there were significantly less fights and problems with intoxicated customers,” Mikes said. “But, employees were annoyed.”

People that enjoy going out on Fire Island in the summer were also frustrated by this discontinuation.

“I turned 21 last winter, so this past summer was my first legal summer. Needless to say I was very excited to go out on Fire Island,” Erin Schindlar, who has been going to Fire Island since she was a baby, said. “But it didn’t stop me from going at all. That’s the thing, the people that truly love the island will not stop going just because of one ferry.”

Ferry employees recall some of the craziness that boarded that 1a.m. ferry.

“It was definitely pretty stressful making sure all of the people got back and forth safely because everyone was pretty wasted,” Jack Murray, a deckhand on the Fire Island Ferries, said. “I think they made the decision because they were getting sick of putting their employees through that.”

Aside from the safety concerns, Murray recalled all the nights he got stuck cleaning throw up off the boat deck.

“I cleaned up a lot of nasty stuff on those boats, like a lot of town-pizza throw up, which is not my first choice,” Murray said.

Taking away this boat could also mean that the ferry company could be taking a loss in profits.

“I don’t think it affected business too bad,” Murray said. “I remember a bunch of the captains saying it won’t hurt the company too bad because the holidays over the summer were more important  for the ferry company to reach our numbers than the 1 a.m. boat.”

The intercommunity on Fire Island is unchanged.

“The ferry is a relaxing ride,” Pete Stumme, a Fire Island Ferry captain, said. “People want to enjoy the weather and scenery, not hear people yelling and throwing up.”

It is only the ferries leaving from Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park at 1a.m. that are discontinued, but people on other towns on Fire Island can still utilize the water taxi and travel from town to town.