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Ridership Drops After East River Ferry Starts Charging

By Amy Zimmer | June 30, 2011 8:00am

By Amy Zimmer and Olivia Scheck

DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — Ridership dropped dramatically on the East River Ferry this week as it began charging commuters for the first time, but the numbers were still higher than officials expected.

More than 5,700 passengers hopped the ferry linking Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn for its maiden voyage on June 13, kicking off 12 days of free rides that ended June 25th.

The ridership was dropped by about half once the ferry started charging $4 a trip, as roughly 2,800 riders took to the water on June 27, according to a spokesman for a PR firm that represents NY Waterway.

The weekend also saw a drop in ridership — with Saturday's paid ferries shuttling than 4,700 passengers, down from 10,000 riders a week earlier on June 18.

Sunday had roughly 4,650 riders, down from 5,600 passengers the week prior.

NY Waterway — which is operating the route for Billybey Ferry Co. — said it's not concerned about the drop in ridership.

It had so many passengers during the free rides, it had to issue wait advisories, with some riders delayed for more than an hour even though ferries are slated to come every 30 minutes. Ferries arrive every 20 minutes during the weekday rush

The city awarded Billybey Ferry Company a $9.3 million subsidy for the first three years to operate the service. Officials have said they're aiming for 400,000 riders its first year.

That would translate into roughly 1,095 passengers a day — less than the number that the ferry is already attracting.

"The ridership on the East River Ferry has exceeded our expectations and, even at the start of the pay-period, we have seen high demand for this new transportation service," Paul Goodman, CEO of Billybey, said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing to provide service to those along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront, and leisure passengers from Manhattan and beyond.

The ferry makes stops at East 34th Street and Wall Street's Pier 11, in addition to locations in Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg and DUMBO.

Ferry operators have been advocating to change the stop in Long Island City from the Water Taxi Beach area to the less remote Gantry State Park, a spokesman said.

There have also been a few kinks with the ferry piers' infrastructure. 

There was a cracked pylon at the Long Island City stop that had to be replaced last week. A spokesman said it was an old pylon that was damaged by water currents and posed no safety concerns.

A service advisory said due to necessary construction repair, Greenpoint's India Street terminal will be closed on Thursday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.