HUNTERS POINT — The East River Ferry, which chauffeurs residents from the Queens and Brooklyn waterfront to Manhattan, will keep running until at least 2019, city officials said.
Originally started as a three-year pilot project, the city's Economic Development Corporation is looking for an operator to run the popular ferry service for five more years, noting that more than 1.6 million passengers have ridden the ferry since it launched in June 2011.
"The East River Ferry has quickly become an integral piece of the city’s transportation network, far surpassing ridership projections for its initial three-year pilot service," EDC president Seth Pinsky said in a statement, adding that the ferry is a "catalyst for economic development in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.”
The East River Ferry shuttles riders from Long Island City and Brooklyn to Midtown and lower Manhattan for $4 one-way, or $140 for an unlimited monthly pass.
"I go to the riverside and hop on the ferry, and in 5 to 10 minutes, you're there," said Wendy Khan, 35, who said she takes the boat about five days a week to get from her home in Long Island City to Midtown.
The water route is preferable to some Queens residents who've been plagued by ongoing service disruptions on the 7 train this year.
"It's much better — you're outside, and you have a nice view," Khan said.
The EDC will be accepting applications from potential operators until March 1, according to a request for proposals issued last week. The new operator would get a contract to run the service for five years. The current contract is with BillyBey Ferry Co. and expires in June of 2014. NY Waterway currently operates the route for BillyBey.
In a statement, the EDC said it is looking for contractors that can maintain the ferry's current level of service "while significantly reducing or eliminating the need for public operating assistance." The city now spends $3 million a year to subsidize the route.
The EDC said potential applicants also have the opportunity to expand the service, either by adding more service hours or more pickup locations.
Launched in 2011, the East River Ferry stops at seven spots, plus Governors Island during the summer months. City officials said ridership during the summer of 2012 increased by nearly 40 percent compared to the summer before. The ferry celebrated its millionth customer in July.
The ferry was also a vital link in getting residents to work in the wake of Hurricane Sandy this fall, elected officials said, reopening in the days after the storm while much of the city's subway lines were still crippled.
Queens City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said keeping the ferry in operation is important, as the city looks for new ways to expand its transportation network, which proved its vulnerability during the storm.
“By enhancing the East River Ferry service our city is only building upon an increasingly popular mode of alternative transportation New Yorkers have come to embrace — and love,” he said in a statement.