NY East River to Get Regular Commuter Ferry Service

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(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) New Yorkers who commute between Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens will have another transportation option this June. The city's Economic Development Corporation has awarded a contract that charts a course  for all-day, year-round East River ferry service.

The ferries will be operated by the BillyBey Ferry Company, a division of New York Waterway. They'll run every 20 minutes in both directions and make seven stops between Long Island City and the Fulton Ferry Landing. Two additional seasonal stops — to Atlantic Avenue and Governors Island— are also in the works.

Paul Goodman, CEO of  BillyBey, is confident that the reliability of the service — coupled with the convenience — will help the ferries build a following.

“When you ride along the waterfront, there are lots of areas where we are simply going to be the more convenient option,” he said. “And with the assistance of the city, in terms of the subsidy they're providing, this is going to be priced very attractively as well.”

The EDC has guaranteed to subsidize the ferry service for three years at $3 million a year. With that, the cost per trip will be $3 or $5.50 depending on distance.

Julie Wood, a spokesperson for the EDC, said the ferries are targeting some of the city's fastest-growing areas. "We envision this being a great option for people who live in neighborhoods like Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Long Island City, [places] that are emerging neighborhoods where there's been a lot of recent development and there's expected to be future growth," she said.

And Goodman hopes that the ferries will help the neighborhoods grow — which could then, of course, help his company. “Access to ferries on the East River will enhance the development of the waterfront in Queens and Brooklyn,” he said, “and that in turn will enhance the prospects for the ferry business.”  Goodman says he envisions using three boats at the outset, and depending on the vessel, each will accommodate either 99 or 149 passengers. Bikes are welcome on board but you won't be able to pay with a metrocard.

The city has tried East River ferries before, most recently with New York Water Taxi. But the recession, combined with a disagreement between the city and that company about the subsidy, has long hampered the service, which was spartan to begin with.  Currently, according to their website, New York Water Taxi only offers five commuter trips a day, two in the morning and three in the afternoon.

Ferries are notoriously difficult to operate profitably. The business can be seasonal, which makes it hard to build a following. And the price can scare off some riders who might opt to spend less money on a bus or subway that can take them farther — albeit in traffic, or underground.

To sweeten the deal, the ferry company is also providing a free bus service at 34th Street that will make stops through the Midtown office corridor.