Ferry good news as plans for new waterborne service progress

March 10, 2016 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Citywide ferry service is one step closer to setting sail.

Representatives from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) – the agency behind the five new ferry routes – stopped by Community Board 10 on Wednesday, March 9 to discuss, in detail, the new ferry landing design coming next year to Bay Ridge.

The $55-million five-borough ferry service – first announced last February – will take place in two phases. According to NYCEDC, the South Brooklyn, Astoria and Rockaway routes will begin operation in 2017 with the Soundview and Lower East Side routes to follow in 2018.

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The South Brooklyn route will have landings at Bay Ridge (via the 69th Street Pier), the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Red Hook, Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6 near Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 in DUMBO and Wall Street’s Pier 11.

Total travel time from first stop to last will be just 43 minutes, and the trip will cost the same as a subway ride.

However, according to NYCEDC Senior External Affairs Analyst Justine Johnson, until the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) moves onto a new medium of fare acceptance, riders will not be able to swipe their MetroCards at ferry gates.

“[The Citywide Ferry Service] won’t be launched with the MetroCard,” she said, noting that the MTA is currently phasing out its legacy MetroCard as part of its capital improvement program. “So, we’ve been in conversations with the MTA and have expressed our interest in looking for opportunities for fare acceptance once they get the next generation of fare medium online.”

However, entrance to the ferry will work in a similar way to the subway, said Johnson.

“Once you pay to get on the system, you can transfer throughout,” she said, noting that Ridgeites craving a quicker trip to Manhattan might want to take the eight-minute ride from Bay Ridge to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, where they can transfer to the Rockaway Route for a straight one-stop-shot to Wall Street. “You’re never going to pay an additional amount to get on another line.”

There will also be discounts for different demographics, said Johnson.

Images courtesy of EDC
Images courtesy of EDC

The ferry landing design itself was also discussed at the meeting.

Stops will include a gateway connecting the existing pier or esplanade to a newly constructed floating barge (which, Johnson said, will be protected by some sort of to-be-determined shelter) where riders will be able to purchase their tickets and wait for the next ferry.

“What we’ve learned from the existing East River Ferry is that sometimes people who are enjoying a park or a pier want to see a little bit of separation between the hustle and bustle of the ferry,” said Johnson, “and, oftentimes, when there is a long line of people queuing, it affects residents’ and tourists’ ability to enjoy that park or pier or esplanade. So, we’ve put all the amenities on the barge.”

Images courtesy of EDC
Images courtesy of EDC

When asked by board members if the city would consider adding additional stops or routes (like, a direct connection from Bay Ridge to Midtown or from Bay Ridge to Staten Island), Johnson replied with confidence.

“One of the benefits of having ferry service is essentially, these are all dots on a map,” she said, “so, there’s lots of opportunity here to see where else we can go to test new things out. Once the infrastructure is in place, I think, there will be lots of things that we can try to do.”

Board member Steve Harrison circled back to concerns previously raised to the agency by the board, including the need for public restrooms at the pier and some sort of shuttle bus to connect residents to the service and ease parking congestion.

“We think that, for the purposes of safety and maintenance, the operator will be responsible for maintaining those restrooms, making sure they’re open and making sure people can use them,” said Johnson, stressing that – as of now – restrooms will be on the vessels, not the landing.

In regards to allocating money for a shuttle, NYCEDC said it would report back.

In addition, the board had asked that, if electrical work is done on the pier to install the landing, NYCEDC consider using its resources to relight the once-functional 9/11 Memorial, a request to which Johnson responded the wheels were already in motion.

“That is something that has already been escalated,” she said, noting that her team is looking to see if there is a way to get the memorial lit again. “I say, if we can get it done, let’s do it.”

All in all, Johnson said, the citywide ferry will have 21 landings throughout the five boroughs with a total of six routes (including the already functional East River Ferry system) running a projected 4.6 million trips per year. In terms of preliminary numbers, NYCEDC expects to have 19 to 21 vessels (with two to three boats per route, depending on ridership, and the potential for swing vessels), making a trip every 30 or so minutes from 6:30 a.m. through about 10 p.m.

As stated in the Request for Proposals, NYCEDC is looking to secure a service provider (which, contrary to reports, EDCNYC claims has not yet been chosen) that can provide vessels to seat a minimum of 149 passengers per ride.

“The whole idea of expanding the options for commuters is very, very interesting to us,” said CB 10 Chair of Traffic and Transportation Jayne Capetanakis at the start of the meeting, “and is something that we hope will help give community residents a choice and access to improve their commutes.”

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