The NYC Ferry officially debuted this morning with its first two routes, one between Far Rockaway, Sunset Park, and Wall Street; and another route connecting stops along the East River in Brooklyn in Manhattan. The new city-subsidized ferry service will eventually expand to six routes, with a South Brooklyn route (featuring stops in Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Red Hook, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Wall Street) launching June 1st. An Astoria route will begin in August, with Lower East Side and the Bronx routes coming in 2018.
The first thing people accustomed to the now-discontinued East River Ferry will notice (other than the shiny new boats) is the new price, which is dropping from $4-$6 to $2.75, though it still costs an extra $1 to bring a bike on board. The new boats are nicer than the run-down East River Ferry vessels, but there is significantly less space for bike storage, which could pose a problem for people who do a combination ferry-bike commute. The boats only have six bike racks, and a ferry worker this morning could not say what the boarding policy would be for cyclists once all six racks are occupied.
One new improvement is the introduction of flatscreens at the docks which provide up-to-date information (in theory) about ferry service. But they're still working out the kinks—this morning the midtown-bound ferry was supposed to depart from South Willamsburg at 7:40 a.m. Although the screen said it was boarding, the boat was nowhere in sight. It finally arrived at 7:48 a.m.
The screen also shows the status of Citi Bike availability at every ferry stop, which is helpful, as well as local city bus stops near the ferry landing.
You can download a free NYC Ferry app to buy tickets, and there is a 30-day unlimited ferry pass available for $121, the same as a 30-day MetroCard.
On board, the new boats—which can carry 150 people—feature improved seating (cup holders!), free Wi-Fi, a restroom (which the East River Ferry boats sorely lacked) and fancy concessions by the New Stand folks. Coffee by Joe costs $3, and beer ($6) and wine ($8) will be sold along the East River route as soon as next week. (Libations are already flowing on the Rockaway ferry.) There is also a variety of snacks, earbuds, sunblock, and other upscale merchandise for sale.
Yesterday Mayor de Blasio hopped aboard the inaugural trip on the Rockaway route, using the occasion to indulge his inner Cuomo by piloting the boat for a bit. "It was cool, smooth, super-responsive," de Blasio said. "It was like driving a Fiat."
The city is spending $55 million in infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the new ferry service, including building 10 new ferry landings, plus an additional $10 million for additional startup costs, such as vessel upgrades and ticketing machines. Taxpayers are also providing $30 million in operating support every year for the next six years to Hornblower Cruises and Events, the company operating the ferries on a six year contract. (Hornblower also operates boats to the Statue of Liberty.) The city will own the boats, so that if Hornblower's contract is not extended, another operator could be considered. In a statement, the mayor's office defended the expenditure: "Based on a projection of 4.6 million annual trips, the per-trip subsidy for NYC Ferry will be $6.60, lower than the nearly $8 per trip subsidy on the Long Island Railroad or the nearly $15 per trip subsidy for express buses."
The city is currently constructing a port at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which the mayor's office says will be "a 56,000-square-foot maintenance and storage facility that will include berthing space for 25 boats, supplies and parts, and utilities, including a 40,000-gallon diesel fueling system. It will provide routine maintenance including exterior and interior cleaning, restocking of food and beverage items, fueling and basic repairs. It will be fully outfitted by early 2018, enabling passenger service to an additional stop on the East River route between South Williamsburg and Brooklyn Bridge Park."
There will be 20 new NYC Ferry boats once the other routes start. All of the boats were named by second graders at schools near the ferry system’s 22 landings, and the names delightfuly include Munsee, The Connector, Owl’s Head, Great Eagle, Happy Hauler, McShiney, Opportunity, Flyer, Lunchbox, Waves of Wonder, The Friendship Express, and Sunset Crossing.
This morning NY1's Roger Clark raced NY1's Bob Hardt from the Rockaway stop, with Hardt taking the ferry to Wall Street and beating Clark's subway commute by about 15 minutes. The ferry ride took 90 minutes, while Clark's subway journey took just under an hour 45 minutes.