EXCLUSIVE: Free bus funded by Bally’s to connect East Bronx with Throggs Neck ferry

The Bally’s Corporation is funding a free bus that will connect Bronxites to Ferry Point Park, improving access to the Throggs Neck ferry landing.
Photo Aliya Schneider

The Bally’s Corporation will announce the launch of a new shuttle bus on Monday that will connect East Bronxites with the Throggs Neck ferry stop, which is notoriously hard to access without a car.

News of the move comes on the heels of Bally’s purchase of The Trump Organization’s license to operate the public golf course in Ferry Point Park through at least 2035, ending a contentious eight-year affiliation between the former president’s entity and the city-owned park. The purchase is part of a plan to obtain a competitive downstate full casino license, to be decided by the state Gambling Commission as early as this year.

Bally’s Chair Soohyung “Soo” Kim told the Bronx Times in an exclusive interview that while the property has great road access, it sits in a transportation desert — other than the difficult-to-get-to Throggs Neck ferry landing — with no bus or subway stops in the vicinity.

Launched in December 2021 as one of former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s last hurrahs, the Ferry Point Park stop extended the Soundview route, which runs all the way down the East side of Manhattan to Wall Street. But the new landing has largely catered to drivers who can pull off the Hutchinson River Parkway and park in a free lot at Ferry Point Park, with the closest bus stop at Lafayette Avenue and the Hutchinson River Parkway service road more than a mile from the park entrance.

The bus will be free to use, even if passengers aren’t patronizing Bally’s. Photo courtesy Bob Jaen

“It’s called the Links at Ferry Point, right? So I think making use of the ferry is actually pretty critical as part of our being responsive to the community,” Kim told the Bronx Times.

He called the bus a “long-term community-building exercise.”

The 20-passenger wheelchair-accessible bus will have 10 stops, with seven along East Tremont Avenue connecting Throggs Neck with the Westchester Square subway stop, two along the Hutchinson River Parkway and another at Ferry Point Park. The bus will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday on an approximately 30-minute loop. Bally’s is fully funding the bus, which passengers can use free of charge whether or not they plan on patronizing the golf course.

Those without a car will still struggle to get to the park on weekends, and getting to the ferry itself will continue to be a sticking point for those who can’t trek the .5-mile walk from the park entrance to the landing — unless they’re traveling during weekday peak hours when a small city-run shuttle carries passengers to the landing.

But still, the new transit option is a win-win for both Bally’s and Throggs Neck. It will serve as an olive branch from the entertainment company to locals, helping address longstanding transit issues in the East Bronx that have made the city’s newest ferry stop inaccessible for many, while also helping connect customers to Bally’s.

“There is a multitude of people that don’t even know where the ferry is, doesn’t even know it exists, and that’s because there was no way of people getting there,” said Bob Jaen, the executive director of the Throggs Neck Business Improvement District (BID), in an exclusive interview with the Bronx Times.

Bally’s shuttle bus is the result of a hard-fought local effort that precedes talk of the company coming to Ferry Point. It’s largely the brainchild of Jaen, who — like other locals — was baffled the city invested in creating the ferry landing without also making mass transit available to the stop.

Earlier this year, Jaen pitched a proposal to the MTA to connect bus service to the ferry by extending the Q50 route to Ferry Point Park, but an MTA spokesperson told the Bronx Times that doing so would add 2-plus miles to the route, getting in the way of a direct trip into Queens.

Without an MTA route, Jaen began pushing for a private shuttle bus under the mentorship of Joe Kelleher, the former chair of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce who died in November 2022 at the age of 70 from Glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.

A committee Jaen and Kelleher created to make a shuttle a reality proved to be successful following negotiations with Vito Pitta and Stanley Schlein, legal counsel for Bally’s.

“To be honest, I’m sure that there were other people that had the idea, but we’re the ones that carried it through,” Jaen said. “There was talk about doing a shuttle and stuff like that, but nobody took it from A to Z except for me and Joe Kelleher and the committee that we formed to put it together.”

Kelleher helped “for as long as he could to get as much of it done before he left us,” Jaen said.

“And I had to make sure that I finished it,” he added.

The red and white Bally’s-branded shuttle sports the Throggs Neck BID logo and the back of the bus pays tribute to Kelleher.

The back of the bus says “The future will be better as long as we remember we are stronger together,” a saying which Throggs Neck BID Executive Director Bob Jaen said Joe Kelleher lived by. Photo courtesy Bob Jaen

While the committee was discussing whether to try to fund a shuttle through federal funding or a grant, representatives of Bally’s began reaching out to local leaders about the casino idea. Jaen had a question for them: “What are you going to do for Throggs Neck?”

Meanwhile, Bally’s was curious how to improve transit access to the property.

“We were asking questions like, ‘is there any way we can put in more ferry stops or figure out a way for the ferry to be even more connected to this community,’ and the answer to that was that ‘we’re working on it,'” Kim said.

So they joined forces, pairing the locals’ vision with Bally’s wallet.

“It was like catching the touchdown in overtime in the Superbowl,” Jaen said. “Hitting a grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series.”

Jaen said he did not know how much it will cost Bally’s to fund the shuttle — “Never asked, don’t care,” Jaen said — and Kim did not disclose a price tag.

But the bus is here to stay, given that locals like it.

“We are here to be a good neighbor, and hopefully we’ll be appreciated for being a good neighbor,” Kim said. “We don’t have an end date to it, but if people feel like it’s not that exciting to them then we’ll find something that can be.”

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes