Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last Wednesday in Long Island City that NYC Ferry has transported 1 million riders, one month ahead of the projected timeline. He touted the new transit system as a way to connect neighborhoods like Red Hook, the Rockaways and even Astoria with the rest of the city.
“NYC Ferry opens doors for people,” de Blasio said, “and it’s being located in areas that just didn’t have enough transportation, that were deprived of the mass transit they needed.
“If people can’t get around, everything that is great about New York City becomes a lot less great for them,” he added. “If you’re cut off or if it takes way too long to get places, your quality of life is diminished and you just don’t have as much opportunity to get ahead economically.”
The mayor said it was “a mistake” when the city turned away from the water decades ago under the leadership of Robert Moses, who was focused on “making life easier for the automobile.”
“Highways were built everywhere, but mass transit was not built where it was needed,” de Blasio said. “We didn’t take advantage of the waterways, which gave us a chance to move people around without congestion.”
By expanding alternative transportation options like the ferry, CitiBike and Select Bus Service (SBS), the mayor said the result will be reduced congestion on the roads and trains.
De Blasio also announced Wednesday that the Astoria Route, which will connect Astoria, Long Island City, Roosevelt Island, 34th Street and Wall Street, is set to launch on August 29.
NYC Ferry will eventually have six routes in total. Right now, the Rockaway, East River and South Brooklyn lines are up and running. The Lower East Side and Soundview routes will begin next year.
Another stop will be created in Long Island City later this year, the mayor said.
A ride on the ferry costs $2.75, the same as a MetroCard swipe. A 30-day unlimited pass is $121, mirroring the cost of a 30-day MetroCard. However, without fare integration, passengers cannot transfer to the subways or buses yet.
“This ferry service is going to be right next door to Astoria Houses, that’s going to be fantastic for the people who live there,” de Blasio said. “Now instead of 20 minutes to walk to the subway, 20 minutes on the ferry and they’re in Midtown Manhattan.”
Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Tenant Association, said for decades the residents of the public housing complex have been cut off from much of the city.
“I can assure you that we are a mile away from the nearest subway, much too far of a walk for many of our older residents,” Coger said. “And even for those able to make the trip, getting anywhere other than Midtown Manhattan requires long commutes and multiple transfers.”
“The New York City Ferry is going to change all of that,” she added. “The Astoria landing will be just a short walk from our front doors.”
Coger called the ferry the “biggest public investment in transportation” the Astoria Houses community has seen in decades.
“New York City Ferry means we will be able to access jobs in neighborhoods we previously could not reach,” she said. “New York City Ferry means that working parents will have more time with their families, instead of spending hours on long commutes.”
Councilman Costa Constantinides said residents on the Hallets Cove peninsula have one of the longest commutes in his district, but he believes the ferry will cut their rides in half.
“The entire community there, for years, has looked around, surrounded by water and no connection to it,” he said. “This is an opportunity for transportation and to educate our young people about the waterways around them.”
Borough President Melinda Katz said the ferry system will not only respond to growth in the borough, but create further growth as well.
“As the city grows, we are able to transport our folks better and more efficiently,” she said.
De Blasio acknowledged some of the problems the ferry system faces, particularly the long lines during rush hour. To address the demand, he announced that three of the 20 boats will have bigger engines and will hold up to 249 passengers, a jump from the 149 seats on standard boats.
“The blessing is a lot of people like it, the challenge is a lot of people have shown up, more than expected,” he said. “We’ve been chartering boats to add capacity and keep the system flexible.”
The mayor said the Rockaway line has seen a large ridership on summer weekends, which the city underestimated. The city has added more boats at key times in the morning and afternoon.
“We’ve substantially reduced the waits,” de Blasio said. “There is still going to be times when people going to the beach or coming from the beach are going to have waits, but it’s much less. We’ll keep making adjustments as we go along.”
James Patchett, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), said the original plan was to run two 250-person vessels on the Rockaway line. After seeing the demand, EDC added two additional vessels on weekends.
Patchett said since doubling their capacity in the last two weekends, they’ve had more success.
“People were not waiting very long at all,” he said. “We were able to clear all of the lines.”
To meet growing demand during the morning commute, EDC also added a fourth vessel along the East River route. They then ran a fifth vessel, called the “sweeper vessel,” to pick up people left behind on the dock.
“Instead of continuing to just run a vessel that was waiting to show up when people were going to be left behind, we’ve instead now temporarily added an additional vessel to show up at those docks about five minutes after the initial vessel on those key rush hour routes,” Patchett said. “It’s been a very successful new solution to this, and we’re going to continue to have to evolve.”