Mayor de Blasio's vision for a dramatically expanded ferry system in New York City is about to be realized: he announced today that the ferry service will launch as soon as summer 2017. That ferry will be operated by Hornblower, Inc., a California-based cruise, yacht, and ferry company that's operated in the New York harbor for the past 10 years.
The expanded ferry system will be integrated with the currently-existing East River Ferry, which services Manhattan and the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront between Dumbo and Long Island City. In 2017, boats will service seafaring commuters in Far Rockaway, South Brooklyn, and Astoria, and by 2018, the system will expand to the Upper East Side, Soundview, and the Lower East Side.
Ferry rides will cost the same as a MetroCard swipe—$2.75—down from the current cost of $4 on weekdays and $6 on weekends. For an extra dollar, you can bring a bike onboard. Ultimately, the city hopes to integrate the ferry system with the MTA, though initial studies indicate that will actually only benefit a small percentage of commuters, as 75 percent of potential riders would either walk or bike to the ferries and not transfer to or from the subway.
"It's going to be a commute like no other: fresh air, harbor views, and a fast ride on the open water," de Blasio said Wednesday.
After the mayor announced his plan for the expanded ferry system last February, the city's Economic Development Corporation put out a request for bids from private ferry operators who will receive government subsidies. Also up for consideration as an operator was New York Water Taxi, a 12-vessel fleet that currently offers cruises and an express shuttle from Wall Street to the Red Hook Ikea. NYWT has been in operation for 15 years, but said last week that if the city chooses an out-of-state provider (like Hornblower) for the expanded ferry system, it'll be forced to go out of business as soon as this October.
"The City is creating a government-subsidized monopoly that will force us out of business, stifle competition, and have tremendous leverage against the City in any future negotiations," NYWT Executive Vice President Peter Ebright, Executive Vice President said today. "Unfortunately, there is a lack of understanding of how we operate and the ferry business in New York Harbor. Today’s decision and comments demonstrates this."
When asked about NYWT's threat at a press conference Wednesday, NYCEDC President Maria Torres-Springer said that the city "will continue to work with them in any way possible...we're very bullish in the harbor, so we think there's room for a number of operators." Torres-Springer also said that in the event that NYWT does go out of business, the city will endeavor to help displaced workers find jobs in the expanded network, which will create at least 155 new jobs.
"Competition. It's called competition," de Blasio said. "People compete. Someone wins. People should respect that process."
Commute times on the ferry will vary, from about 20 minutes between Astoria and East 34th Street to an hour between Far Rockaway and Wall Street. The city is also planning to add routes from Coney Island and Stapleton on Staten Island, but there's not yet any set date for that further expansion.