We were initially stoked about the new East River Ferry as being a viable commuting option from Brooklyn to Manhattan from the crowded/bearded L, or sweating through your starched shirt on a bike over the Williamsburg Bridge. The ferry's tagline is "Relax. We'll Get You There," which almost sounds like you'd be taking Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin" yacht to your cubicle, ice cubes clinking in your frosted glass the whole way. But is the ferry, which is free through June 24th and $4.00 each way after, really as fast as taking the train or biking?
We conducted our own commuter race this morning and sent three staffers on a race from Bedford and North 12th in Williamsburg to 23rd and Madison next to Madison Square Park. Leaving at 8:55 a.m., one rode a bike, another took the subway, and the third hopped on the ferry. The winner? The subway by two measly minutes. The loser? The East River Ferry. Here are the individual commuters' accounts along with their arrival times.
FERRY: Jamie Feldmar, Arrival Time: 10:01. The ferry part of my journey was delightful—it showed up right on time at N. 6th St, and moved quickly, plus it was a lovely sunny day for sailing. And there was fresh coffee on board! Most commuters I talked to were trying it for the first time, and they seemed fairly pleased, although several expressed concern about the price of the ride once the free trial period ends. "$140 is too expensive for a monthly pass, and you can't really get rid of your MetroCard if you plan to go anywhere else," said writer Alessandro. "I'll take it every day while it's free, but after that just as a treat," he said. Others pointed out that many of stops are in newly developed areas, and one passenger complained "it's really only convenient for rich people." Still, office worker Meredith, who traveled between Greenpoint and 34th St., said "I'm a lot happier on this boat than I would be on the train."
When I got off the ferry at 34th, the shuttle bus that was supposed to meet us at at the dock was stuck in traffic, so we dawdled around a parking lot for about 15 minutes. NY Waterways does have a handy mobile app to track where the bus is and offers real-live-person support for customers, but knowing where the bus is doesn't really make it move any faster. Once on the shuttle, it did move fairly quickly, avoiding congested 34th St in favor of the quieter 35th instead. Unfortunately, the ferries only run every 20 minutes (30 during off-peak hours), so if you just miss one, you're in for a wait, and they stop running around 8:30 p.m., so if you ever work late you're kind of screwed.
My journey by far took the longest—a solid hour, including waiting and walk times from McCarren to the ferry and then from the shuttle stop to Madison Square Park. My impression is that the ferry is very convenient for people who live and work in highly strategic locations—otherwise, it's more of a novelty act. Due to its limited schedule and relatively infrequent running times, I can't imagine actually commuting on this thing, no matter how lovely the view.
BIKE: Chris Robbins, Arrival Time: 9:25. Being used to biking the Manhattan Bridge every day, the Williamsburg Bridge seems to burn my legs considerably less, but any benefit was neutralized by the amount of people walking in the bike lane. Sure the bike lane has a better view of the gleaming Manhattan skyline, but that view's for the BIKERS ONLY you worthless bipeds! Clinton Street then turned into Avenue B, and cutting across Tompkins Square Park I could have sworn I saw some "crusties" that the Times claims have vanished. First Avenue's bike lane was predictably chaotic, as I stayed in a pack of commuters until we reached a nice obstacle pictured above that looked like it was straight out of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Nothing a dangerous swerve into traffic cant fix! Finally, the potholes and commotion of 23rd street led me to our destination and our smug intern. If only I hadn't taken the photo!
SUBWAY: Rohin Sethi, Arrival Time: 9:23. A straight shot south on Bedford Ave towards North 7th Street and I was at the arguably most popular stop on the L. I missed the train climbing the stairs to the platform (a terrible, sinking feeling), but not to fear, the L train is running every four minutes in the morning commute hours. 15 minutes later I arrived at the Union Square station and a brisk navigation of the underground labyrinth had me at the Uptown bound R in perfect time. One subway stop, two flights of stairs and one street block pass and I'm standing in front of the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, wishing it were open (there's no line at that hour!) Quick, easy and painless. The L wasn't even that crowded!