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New East River Ferry Service Gearing Up for June

By Amy Zimmer | May 18, 2011 9:55pm
An image of the East River waterfront from 2007 with the SeaStreak ferry seen at the East 34th Street pier.
An image of the East River waterfront from 2007 with the SeaStreak ferry seen at the East 34th Street pier.
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Flickr/Herve Boinay

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — New Yorkers are about to get another mode of transporation that may steer them from overcrowded subways and buses: new ferry service is set to hit the East River in June connecting Manhattan's East Side with Brooklyn and Queens.

City officials will be closely watching the $8.9 million three-year pilot program, which will provide ferry service every 20-25 minutes.

Boats will go from the QueensWest development in Long Island City to East 34th St. and then to Greenpoint, North Williamsburg, South Williamsburg and Fulton Ferry before finishing at Pier 11 on Wall Street, according to a study from the city's Economic Development Corporation.

While the new passenger terminal at East 34th Street is still under construction, sources said the waterborne transit is expected to kick off early next month, as planned, while the work continues.

Construction at the East River Ferry Landing in March 2010.
Construction at the East River Ferry Landing in March 2010.
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DNAinfo/Gabriela Resto-Montero

"The service is still planned for June, but I don't want to give a specific date," said a spokesman for BillyBey Ferry Co., which will operate the route.

He said the company tentatively plans to unveil more details about the service on Monday.

Fares will reportedly range from $3 to $5.50.

Additional service is being considered for the weekends connecting Fulton Ferry in Brooklyn, Pier 11, Governors Island and Pier 6 at Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn.

"It's a three-year experiment," said Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance advocacy group. "I think that's enough time for people to change their commuting habits."

With a surge of investment in housing, parks and piers along the waterfront, the city hopes to see a critical mass of ferry riders.

Lewis is optimistic, too, but said there must be easier transit connections to and from the piers.

"The connections are the missing link," he said. "Most days, who wouldn't enjoy a boat ride in the New York harbor? It's getting to the docks and making sure people feel safe and comfortable when they're there and having rides every 20 minutes."

The frequency of the rides was important, he said. "This way, if you miss a boat by five minutes, a 15-minute wait for the next one is not interminable."

BillyBey, which contracts with NY Waterway ferries, is expected to run its own bus from the East 34th Street pier to Grand Central Terminal and Bryant Park.

Lewis believes ferries would get a bigger boost if the service and fare collection were integrated with other modes of public transit, such as the MTA.

Tickets for ferries in San Francisco and Seattle, for instance, are integrated with other transit modes. And the MTA has integrated MetroCards with other transit modes it doesn’t run, including the Roosevelt Island Tram and the AirTrain.

"In San Francisco and Seattle, you get a pass that's good for any mode of transit. That's the way we need to do it eventually," Lewis said. "There is a Balkanization of ferry transit in New York City."

The new East River ferry service will only be viable with subsidies, the EDC report pointed out.

The agency anticipated the ferry service will break even if it has an annual ridership of 467,000 with an annual subsidy of $4.3 million. That would translate to a break of $9.30 per ride for an average fare of $5.

The city, however, is only contributing $3 million.

Subsidizing transit is not uncommon: The Long Island Rail Road has a subsidy of roughly $6 per passenger and the New York City Transit Express bus system's subsidy is roughly $12 per rider.

A ferry route along the east side of Manhattan that stops stopping along the Upper East Side at East 90th and East 71st streets, Roosevelt Island, East 34th and East 23th streets and Pier 11, would need a subsidy of $9.15 per ride, the EDC study said.

A Hudson River route along the West Side would need a subsidy of $14.28 per ride.

Several subsidized ferry routes have been created over the years in the city. Most recently, there was service to the Rockaways, which was cut after ridership fell short and the city subsidized it $20 per ride.