East River Ferry Service: One Year Later

Monday, May 14, 2012 - 9:22am
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Expectations Exceeded

 

From Mayor Bloomberg's perspective, the East River Ferry Service does double duty: it's not only part of a major city-wide transportation expansion also involving express buses and the subway system, it's a critical component of WAVES, the City's Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy, which focuses on increasing people's connectivity to the water.

"And so it was against this twin backdrop -- significantly expanded transportation options and significant recommitment to our City's waterfront -- that Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn took the first ride on the East River Ferry Service last June," Tim Sullivan, co-coordinator of the City's waterfront policy with Aaron Koch, told the City Council's Waterfronts Committee at a hearing on the service on April 25. "Since that day, more than 715,000 people have used the service."

While that's almost double original ridership projections, City officials aren't ready to declare the ferry service a complete success after 10 months of service in a 36-month pilot project. Long term issues include:

  • integrating service better into the regional transit system, which would begin with a fare card accepted at subways, buses and ferries
  • construction of completely new dock systems
  • maintaining frequency of service. As Economic Development Corp. Senior VP Andrew Genn noted, "The more reliable ferry service is, the higher the ridership will be." 
  • upgrading dock amenities
  • lowering the price 

Still, the East River Ferry Service has surpassed expectations in many ways, such as boosting local economies in Williamsburg by bringing patrons to small businesses such as the Brooklyn Flea, and enhancing the value of waterfront real estate. While winter ridership fell below what was projected, summer ridership was so successful that an extra boat was added to handle the crowds.

Riders pay $4 one way, and up to four children may ride free with a paying adult. Service is as frequent as every 20 minutes at peak commuting times. The East River Ferry Service connects Wall Street (Pier 11) to East 34th Street, with stops at Brooklyn Bridge Park, South Williamsburg, North Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Long Island City.

Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, says the long-term challenges are eminently solvable. "The fact that the service has succeeded despite these hurdles is compelling evidence of the viability and necessity of subsidized, frequent, comfortable, reliable and scenic waterborne transit to bolster our dynamic and growing city," he told the committee.

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