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NYC Ferry Warns Of Large Crowds, Longer Wait Times For Memorial Day After Sunday Mess

People waiting for the ferry at the South Street Seaport
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People waiting for the ferry at the South Street Seaport Gwynne Hogan / WNYC

As expected, a glorious Memorial Day weekend weekend weather did result in people flocking to city beaches. However, not all trips to the Rockaways went well, as beach goers opting to take the ferry waited over an hour for boats.

The NYC Ferry route to Rockaway Peninsula, which begins at Wall Street with a stop at Sunset Park, is the most popular line, and it had wait times of 60-90 minutes on Sunday, NYC Economic Development spokeswoman Stephanie Baez told WNYC. (The NYC EDC operates NYC Ferry.) Baez said, "Due to the warm holiday weekend, we’re experiencing very high ridership and increased wait times."

However, Kathy Jones, who waited an hour at the Sunset Park ferry stop on Sunday, pointed out that NYC Ferry didn't address crowds or long lines until mid-afternoon, hours after many people start their treks. "There was nothing on their Twitter account," Jones, a Flatbush resident, said. "The subways know how to run during rush hour. Memorial Day weekend is the ferry's rush hour."

Jones, her husband, and seven-year-old daughter arrived at the ferry stop at 10 a.m., hoping to catch the 10:24 boat. "It didn’t seem like the line was too big at that point," she recalled. But the ferry that arrived could only take about "a handful of people." Then the next ferry again could take about 15 people. By the time Jones and her family made it onto a boat, they estimated there were about 120 people on line.

Many people asked NYC Ferry whether there would be extra boats... and were told there were extra boats:

According to the NY Post, "The EDC said it chartered four extra vessels and put 20 agents at the busiest stops, but it did little to stop the meltdown. 'We're running the maximum amount of service possible to clear wait times and ask riders to check the app for real-time updates,' an EDC spokeswoman said."

However, City Council Member Ben Kallos, who was caught up on a long line on the Soundview route, while waiting on the Upper East Side, told the Daily News, "This isn’t the first weekend that this has happened. There is no one on each dock trying to manage the lines. People are pushing to the front in a panic trying to get a spot."

Kallos told the Daily News that he pointed out to the Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit city agency that oversees the ferry service, that the NYC Ferry app did not provide alerts about long wait times.

Jones thought ferry staffers did the best they could. "I really felt for the ticket takers at the terminal," Jones said. "People were upset, and the the workers said, 'Please don’t be mad at us'' as they attempted to manage the situation. She faulted NYC Ferry for not properly anticipating the summer weekend demand, "It doesn’t make me feel good about ferry service through the summer," she added.

The return from the Rockaways was also difficult for some:

Jones and her family ended up taking a subway to head back to Brooklyn, a trip that took 90 minutes and "five subways." "But it took three hours to get to the Rockaways," she said. "I could have gone to Fire Island in that time." She remained frustrated on Monday, saying that NYC Ferry should have had some sort of apology, as well as a message to customers saying that the service was unacceptable and that they would work it out.

"I’ve been living in New York City since the late 80s, I went to Fort Tilden in the 90s... and these beaches [Rockaway and Riis] have exploded. And it's a wonderful thing that people in New York City live so close to the waterfront," Jones said. "They have to figure this out, because you're not going to stop people from going there."

NYC Ferry, a pet project of Mayor Bill de Blasio, has been under criticism for being heavily subsidized by taxpayers. A report from the Citizens Budget Commission found "that [the] per-rider subsidy worked out to $10.73 in fiscal year 2018... and is expected to balloon to more than $24 per trip on a planned Coney Island route announced earlier this year — or 2,257 percent more than what's allocated to the average subway or bus rider." NYC Ferry also does not have ridership data.

This morning, for Memorial Day, NYC Ferry shared this service alert, "NYC Ferry expects larger than normal crowds today throughout all routes which may result in longer than normal wait times. We ask that all riders allow themselves additional travel time. Beach goers on the Rockaway route please allow yourself additional time when traveling today. As a reminder, the Rockaway route operates additional service every 28 min on weekends and holidays. Check the NYC Ferry App for real-time updates to service. We appreciate your continued patronage and Happy Memorial Day."

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