Communities Want More NYC Ferry Service

East River ferry pilot and Rockaways popularity prompts new interest in ferries as a viable transportation alternative
May 29, 2013 Updated: May 29, 2013

NEW YORK—Less than a year after Hurricane Sandy’s devastating impact on public transportation, the potential of having not just one popular ferry route—as one Rockaways service has become—but a robust system throughout the five boroughs, is a tantalizing prospect for some New Yorkers.

With a city center surrounded by water, New York City’s relationship to ferries has a long history.

Before the United States was a country or the five boroughs had joined, there was a network of ferries that operated throughout the city’s waterways. By 1870, East River ferries alone were carrying 50 million passengers a year, according to the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.

The potential for expanded ferry service as a mass public transit option is not lost on modern-day politicians, community organizers, and city residents. NYC’s ferry system is the biggest in the country. Last, the Staten Island ferries alone carried a record 22 million passengers.

“New York is a network of islands,” said Council member James Vacca, chair of the Transportation Committee, during a ferry hearing on May 28. “Many of us cross over a waterway during our commute. We have so much untapped potential.”

Three years ago, Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn launched the East River Ferry Service as part of a comprehensive waterfront plan called Vision 2020. The service was a pilot program for a much larger vision and should prove a useful experiment for other successful routes.

“In the last two-plus years we’ve learned an enormous amount about how to operate a multi-stop ferry,” said Tim Sullivan, chief of staff and senior policy adviser for the deputy mayor for economic development.

But Sullivan wasn’t as confident when grilled by City Council members who were clearly agitated by the prospect of their boroughs being left behind if the ferry system continues to develop.

“We’ve got a very limited subsidy pot to invest,” said Sullivan.

The hearing on ferry service was so packed that it had to be moved to a larger room. It was attended by three City Council committees and at least 20 city council members.

The hearing came as Bloomberg, Quinn, Deputy Mayor Robert Steel, and New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky announced a six-week continuation for a popular Rockaway ferry service that was meant to be temporary. The service was put in place to augment the loss due to Hurricane Sandy of A train subway service, that has recently been restored.

The $2 subsidized service may continue through Labor Day weekend if ridership numbers are strong enough, according to city officials.

Game Changer

Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of New York’s transportation network brought the usefulness of ferry service as a transportation option to the forefront.

For people in the Rockaways who were stranded without A train service, the city-subsidized fare of $2 per ride has made it an extremely viable option for residents.

“We saw with Superstorm Sandy that we’re island people, and from time to time we need a method of transportation other than tunnels and roadways,” said Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.

Ferry service to and from the Rockaways is also seen as an economic lifeline due to its attractiveness as a local getaway.

“Not only will it bring much needed transportation relief to its residents who have endured and persevered since Hurricane Sandy, it will bring visitors to discover and patronize local business while enjoying sun and surf along our beach shore,” said.

Ferry service elsewhere has been increasing as well.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg announced a free Red Hook summer ferry service.

It is now possible to travel on weekends by ferry from Manhattan’s Pier 11 to the Brooklyn community of Red Hook, stopping at Van Brunt Street and IKEA. The administration also sees the success of the East River ferry service, which just reached 2 million riders, as encouragement to add more ferry service throughout the summer.

The East River ferry stops at East 34th Street and Pier 11 in Manhattan, Long Island City in Queens, Greenpoint, North Williamsburg, South Williamsburg, and DUMBO in Brooklyn. During the summer it will also stop at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Fridays only and on Governors Island from Friday to Sunday.

Another free ferry service to Governors Island is also operating throughout the summer. It runs from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.


Red Hook Summer Ferry

Weekends through Labor Day

Route: Pier 11 in Manhattan to Red Hook’s Van Brunt Street to IKEA

Ferries every 25 minutes at both landings from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Sat. and Sun.

Cost: Free

Free transfers between Red Hook Ferry and the northbound East River Ferry

East River Ferry

Weekdays 6:40 a.m. to 8:14 p.m. northbound and southbound

Weekends 10:10 a.m. to 8:40 p.m. northbound, and 9:47 a.m. to 9:10 p.m. southbound

Stops at East 34th Street, in Midtown, Hunters Point South/LIC, Greenpoint, Williamsburg at North Sixth Street and also at Schaefer Landing, DUMBO, Pier 11

On weekends also stops at Governors Island

Ferries approximately about 45 minutes

Cost: $4

Free transfers between Red Hook Ferry and the northbound East River Ferry

Rockaways Ferry

Departs from the Rockaways at Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive to Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan

Service starts at 5:45 a.m. in the Rockaways with ferries departing for Manhattan regularly until 9:20 a.m.

Pier 11 departures start at 6:35 a.m., East 34th Street departures start at 2:45 p.m.

Last evening arrival in the Rockaways at 8:40 p.m.

Cost: $2

Free transfers between Pier 11 and East 34th Street in Midtown

Governors Island Ferry

Governors Island is open Sat.–Sun. and holiday Mondays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

From Manhattan: Ferries leave from the Battery Maritime Building, on the corner of South and Whitehall Streets at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and then every half hour.

From Brooklyn: Ferries leave from Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 at the foot of Atlantic Avenue beginning at 11 a.m., and run every 20 minutes.

Cost: Free

Source: New York City Economic Development Council