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Ferry Service is Expanding in New York City


People who live near the East River waterfront will soon have a new way to get around. That’s because five new ferry lines are scheduled to launch on the East River starting this summer. They’ll run from Rockaway to Astoria. A private company will operate the ferries, but it will be subsidized by the city. And some are questioning whether the ferries will carry enough people to make it worth the city’s while. Camila Kerwin reports.

KERWIN 1: At a shipbuilding company near the coast of Alabama, workers are sawing and welding away to make thirteen ferries.

NAT SOUND: [construction sounds]

KERWIN 2: The ferries will be on their way to New York City as part of the upcoming Citywide Ferry Service — a network that will expand the current East River Ferry, launched in 2011. The success of that project was a huge surprise for people like Inna Guzenfeld, a waterfront planner. She says the timing of the upcoming ferry lines is no coincidence:

INNA GUZENFELD 1: A lot of this I think also comes from the city’s experience with the East River ferry which exceeded its three year projected ridership in the first 16 months.

KERWIN 3: In fact, demand was so high, that the project was extended five years, to continue until at least 2019. Today, the ferry carries over three thousand people per day, three times as much as they thought.

Still, it’s easy to cast aside ferries as a transit option — they don’t carry nearly as many people as buses or trains. But they’re nimble and easy to launch quickly. You don’t have to lay tracks or dig tunnels.

INNA GUZENFELD 2: Building a new subway takes a very long time, even if the governor supports it, and people who are under-served by transit, they need better options now.

KERWIN 4: But there’s one major challenge: right now, it doesn’t look like the ferries will connect to trains or buses.

INNA GUZENFELD 3: You know it’s often said that subways take you somewhere to somewhere and ferries take you nowhere to nowhere.

KERWIN 5: Except that in New York City, waterfront development has skyrocketed over the last ten years, especially in Brooklyn and Queens. So, there is a market for ferry service. An urban, young, upwardly mobile market, that needs to get to Wall Street or midtown for work everyday. Stephen Miller is an urban planning expert, and writes a lot about city transit.

STEPHEN MILLER 1: It’s no secret that the development community has a really strong voice in New York City politics and that is certainly something that would make many of their waterfront projects more appealing.

KERWIN 6: The numbers don’t compare. The ferries will carry about four and a half million people annually. Compare that with New York City buses, which carry over 770 million people annually. A San-Francisco based company named Hornblower will run the service. But it will be publicly subsidized to the tune of 30 million dollars per year for at least six years. Miller says this is a question of setting priorities.

STEPHEN MILLER 2: The waterfront ferries have certainly certainly have utility but probably has less utility than you know expanded bus service for example…and for a mayor who has spoken so much about equity it’s a little puzzling that he’s focused on ferries.

KERWIN 7: Those who will benefit from the ferries aren’t only the waterfront elite — they’ll also include residents from Rockaway, where it currently takes an hour and a half to get into lower Manhattan. The ferry will cut that time by at least twenty five minutes. And Shamsa Chaudhri, who lives in Bay Ridge, is looking forward to the launch. Especially since the fare will be the same as the subway: $2.75.

SHAMSA CHAUDHRI: That’s great because currently my husband is paying close to six dollars per ride for the express bus. So that would be great if he could take the ferry to Manhattan.

KERWIN 8: Guzenfeld does say that after the first six subsidized years, that 2.75 fare is likely to go up. By how much, we’ll have to wait see.

Camila Kerwin, Columbia Radio News.


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