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The NYC Ferry service is getting a major expansion this summer

The NYC Ferry service is getting a major expansion this summer
Photograph: Courtesy City of New York

“We’re going to need a bigger boat,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference on Thursday. 

He wasn’t referring to a menacing, bloodthirsty shark—he was talking about the NYC Ferry service, which is set to get a major expansion this summer.

The service, which launched in May 2017, carried 3.7 million passengers across New York City’s waterways in its inaugural year. Now, the city's doubling down on the surprisingly popular transit option, aiming to provide nine million annual rides by 2023. 

NYC Ferry boats are currently operating along four routes (East River, Rockaway, South Brooklyn and Astoria), and two new lines are planned to launch in late summer. One will connect Soundview to Wall Street/Pier 11 via East 90th Street and East 34th Street. That route will provide a 54-minute trip from the Bronx neighborhood to Lower Manhattan, a far cry from the roughly 90 minute trek it now takes via the subway. Another will provide service along the Lower East Side, and will add new stops at Stuyvesant Cove and Corlears Hook. 

The mayor also announced that NYC Ferry is deploying three new boats by the end of the summer, each of which will be able to carry 350 passengers, more than double the 150-person capacity of the 17 existing vessels. Service frequency on the four existing routes will be get a bump, with boats arriving every 20 to 30 minutes instead of the current 25 to 60 minutes. And express trips will be added to the Rockaway route during weekday rush hour and on weekends, giving even more New Yorkers a relatively quick, cheap trip to the beach.

When NYC Ferry launched last year, it was hailed as a success. A ride costs just $2.75, the same as a single-ride subway ticket, and the skyline views from the waterways are a much more appealing proposition than a subway schlep. Each boat is equipped with a bar, effectively making it one of the cheapest booze cruises in the country. The service is not operated by the MTA—it’s city-run, and been hailed by De Blasio as a major transit win as he continues to quibble with Governor Andrew Cuomo over subway funding. 

“I want to put today’s announcement in perspective and I want to speak to all of the straphangers and all of the drivers who suffer in this city every day,” the mayor said at the press conference. “[The ferry] is the key to a future of New Yorkers being able to get around more easily and being able to have the kind of choices that they deserve for the thing that decides so much of your life, getting from point-A to point-B.”

But while De Blasio frequently touts the merits of the ferry, it hardly puts a dent in the city’s larger transit crisis. Even if the service does provide nine million annual trips by the end of 2023, that figure pales in comparison to the roughly eight million trips taken on the city’s subways and buses every single day. The fact that there is currently no cross-registration between the MTA and the NYC Ferry doesn’t help De Blasio’s cause, though he says he’s working with the MTA on some kind of collaboration.

At Thursday’s press conference, De Blasio wasn’t interested in criticism of the ferry's impact When asked by one reporter about the cost efficiency of the subway compared to the boats, he responded by saying, “I appreciate the native skepticism of everyone in the media but sometimes good news is good news. Adding transportation options for millions of New Yorkers is a good thing and we’re going to keep coming out and showing you this progress.”

At the end of the day, the NYC Ferry’s current iteration is never going to be a daily transit alternative for the vast majority of New Yorkers. Still, it’s a delightful way to explore the city and provides a much-needed transit option for areas like Red Hook, which are still not served by the subway. 

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