Bally’s shuttle bus to and from the Throggs Neck ferry landing isn’t guaranteed for the long run, and one local leader hopes the route will be commandeered by the MTA down the road, the Bronx Times has learned.
The bright red shuttle, which is being fully funded by the Bally’s Corporation, was unveiled at a press conference at Ferry Point Park Monday morning. The corporation is seeking a full casino license to operate beside the public golf course in Ferry Point Park, which the company took over from The Trump Organization last week.
The bus, which will connect several East Bronx stops with the Throggs Neck ferry, was the brainchild of Throggs Neck Business Improvement District Executive Director Bob Jaen and a committee of local leaders he put together with Joe Kelleher, the former chair of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, who died last year.
However, the longevity of the shuttle is unclear.
Bally’s Chair Soohyung “Soo” Kim told the Bronx Times last week that there was no time stamp for bus operations when asked whether it’s a pilot or here to stay.
“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,” Kim said last week in an exclusive interview with the Bronx Times.
But on Monday, representatives for Bally’s advertised the program as a three-month venture beginning in October. Jaen and state Sen. Nathalia Fernandez, who helped bring the shuttle to fruition, confirmed with the Bronx Times, however, that bus operations are already underway.
Additionally, Fernandez told the Bronx Times that the arrangement is actually starting as a one-year pilot.
If the service isn’t well-utilized, it may get cut after the pilot, Fernandez said.
“But there is full optimism and belief that this will be a popular program and we’ll see it needed and continue,” she added.
Fernandez said that prior to the arrangement with Bally’s, she was going to seek out government funding for the shuttle or propose the MTA run the loop. She said that while Bally’s is intending to fully fund the program, she’d like to see the state agency take it over in the future.
Ridership data will be collected in four-month increments, which the state pol said can “fuel a future conversation that this is something our city and state should be providing.”
When reached by the Bronx Times, the MTA reiterated that there are no plans to provide regular bus service to the ferry terminal.
“While the MTA is always looking to improve connections to different modes of travel, connecting to the Throggs Neck ferry terminal provides site-specific challenges that remain under evaluation,” said MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan.
During its first 30-minute loop on Monday morning, the shuttle driver — who is an employee of D&J Ambulette, a local business partnering with Bally’s — welcomed people onto the vehicle who were waiting at various bus stops, while rain poured down on the East Bronx.
“Free shuttle bus if you want to go to Westchester Square!” the driver said.
“How much?” asked a man who soon boarded with a smile.
Jaen hopes the shuttle will increase ferry ridership and commerce in the community, proving to Bally’s that it’s worth funding.
“It’s like anything else that we do in the world,” Jaen told the Bronx Times on Monday. “You know, you do something, you see if it works. If it works, you continue to throw money at it. If it doesn’t work you take it away. If the people don’t open up and accept it and use it, it just makes good sense that Bally’s gonna take it away.”
That being said, Jaen believes the shuttle will run beyond the trial period.
“You just put it out there and hope that it catches. If it catches, it will light up like wildfire. If it doesn’t, it will die a slow death,” he said. “But I wasn’t not going to take the chance of getting it to work.”
At a press conference Monday morning, a representative for Bally’s said the route will be expanded as time goes on. Jaen said he envisions the bus connecting the ferry terminal to Morris Park, Castle Hill, Pelham Bay, Co-op City and 180th Street.
The 16-passenger wheelchair-accessible bus runs 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday and passengers will be able to see the vehicle move in real-time on an app.
The Bronx Times reached out to Bally’s for comment and is awaiting a response.
This article was updated at 2:01 p.m. on Sept. 19 to include that Throggs Neck Business Improvement District Executive Director Bob Jaen also confirmed that the shuttle has begun operations.
Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes