East River Ferry Has Twice as Many Riders as Hoped For

10/18/2011 8:57 AM |

There arent enough of these to meet demand.
  • There aren’t enough of these to meet demand.

Back in June there was a great deal of excitement over the new East River Ferry, particularly as it was free to ride for its first two weeks. Then fares went into effect and ridership dropped off, but not by that much. And now, four months later—with service about to be reduced for winter on November 1st—how are things going for the East River Ferry? Way better than anyone predicted.

How much better? Well, weekday ridership is double what early projections estimated, while weekend ridership figures can reach as much as six times the expected number, according to an article in Sunday’s Times.

Since the free rides ended in late June about 350,000 people have paid to take the East River Ferry, more than doubling projections of 134,000. Weekday ridership averages 2,862, or almost twice as many riders as the expected 1,488. On weekends those ratios increase dramatically, with 4,500—or six times the city’s projections—hopping on the ferry daily. On October 9, a whopping 6,500 took the ferry. As a result of this unexpected success, lines frequently form as ferries are often too full to accommodate the number of weekend riders.

So now the ferries’ operator, BillyBey Ferry Company/New York Waterway, want to add boats to the service, but the city has so far declined to do so because it would require increasing the annual public subsidy of $3.1 million that it provides the ferry company per a three-year contract signed earlier this year.

“The only major complaint I’ve heard is that people want more of it,” said Seth W. Pinsky, the president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the service.

Mr. Pinsky said that the city was considering ways to add capacity but that, “in an era of limited resources,” it would be difficult to find more public money for the service.

And while the city’s goal has more to do with long-term development of waterfront real estate in North Brooklyn and Queens, New York Waterway is already faced with huge demand for the ferry service.

City officials are in less of a hurry because their ultimate goal is to attract more developers to the east bank of the river. Mr. Pinsky said the ferries could “really unlock” the construction of an additional 21,000 apartments in those neighborhoods, creating jobs and economic activity.

Remains to be seen how the less frequent winter service will affect this situation.