New York City’s ferry fleet has become an unexpected success story in a year of transit miseries, with ridership far exceeding expectations. Two of the four new ferry lines are already carrying more passengers than had been projected for 2019. The ferry service has proved so popular that the city has had to order bigger boats and there is already talk of creating express routes to zip workers to and from their jobs more quickly.

Six months after Mayor Bill de Blasio started the most extensive ferry service New York has had in decades, it has carried more than 2.5 million passengers, about 700,000 more than had been expected. Though the number of people riding boats is tiny compared with the millions who squeeze onto the subway every day, the successful launch of the ferry system suggests that it could become a key part of the city’s transportation network.

The city had been running a more modest subsidized ferry service on the East River before the de Blasio administration decided to lower the fare to match the subway’s and expand the service to waterfront neighborhoods that the subway does not reach. The city’s investment, which could exceed $325 million by 2023, is one of the most ambitious attempts to change the menu of commuting options in New York.

Whether the city can afford to underwrite so much of the cost remains to be seen, but some riders, especially those unhappy with the delay-plagued subway, have already become regulars.

The ferry service’s robust growth has not come without problems – inspections by the Coast Guard revealed that a mechanical problem had caused pitting in the hulls of some boats. That problem, first reported by The New York Post, has taken six ferries out of service and Mr. de Blasio has ordered an investigation. Officials said the problems posed no safety risk, and that the company that operates the ferry, not the city, would bear the repair costs. In November, a ferry ran aground as it left a pier in Manhattan though no one was hurt.

Despite the setbacks, the demand for waterborne transportation is also fueling the expansion of commuter ferry service across the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. New York Waterway, which operates several routes on the river, added service recently between Midtown Manhattan and Hoboken and Jersey City.

Deputy Mayor, Alicia Glen said New York’s ferry service represented a strategic investment in improving transit options in neighborhoods across the city, especially those where a forest of high-rise towers have drawn new residents. Besides providing another option to an antiquated and unreliable subway, Ms. Glen said the ferry connections could breathe more life into some neighborhoods by spurring development. NYC’s Ferry system is not a typical point-to-point service, added Ms. Glen, but a system whose map looks more like that of a subway or railroad network, making multiple stops before reaching its final destination.

The service is scheduled to expand next year, adding routes to Soundview in the Bronx and the Upper East Side of Manhattan, as well as the Lower East Side. But the operators are already considering going further, Ms. Glen said.

A key reason the ferry service has become so appealing is its low fare: $2.75 each way. This means the ferries are heavily subsidized. City officials estimate that the subsidy amounts to about $6.60 per rider, which would translate to about $16.5 million so far. (New York City already operates the far older Staten Island Ferry, which is free and connects Manhattan and Staten Island.)

Starting the new service has proved more expensive than forecast, but city officials have not flinched at the rising cost. The city’s Economic Development Corporation spent $30 million on the ferry service in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

A future mayor could decide to raise fares to reduce the city’s subsidy, but Ms. Glen said the current administration is committed to keeping the cost of the ferry in line with the base subway and bus fare.

Source: New York Times

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