Buy land and buy sea? East River ferry operator wants to accept Metrocards

Buy land and buy sea? East River ferry operator wants to accept Metrocards
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg

The operator of a ferry line that connects Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and DUMBO with Manhattan wants to accept MetroCards — a proposal that could streamline payment and lure more landlubbers to commute across the East River, transit advocates say.

New York Waterway, which runs the East River Ferry, has asked the MTA and the city to study how it can add ferry rides onto MetroCards, creating a single pass that straphangers can use to commute on land and by sea.

“The idea of integrating the MetroCard system into the East River Ferry system is something we’ve talked about in the past and we are interested in exploring options and learning more from the city and the MTA,” said Billybey Ferry Company CEO Paul Goodman.

A spokeswoman with the Economic Development Corporation, which is subsidizing ferry service with $9.3 million in city funds over three years, said the city is weighing the idea.

An MTA spokesman declined to discuss how it would reconcile pricing differences between the two forms of transit: a one-way ferry trip costs $4 and a monthly unlimited pass costs $140 — considerably more than the MTA’s $2.25 single ride and $104 unlimited MetroCards. (The ferry also adds a $1 surcharge for bringing bikes onto boats).

“It’s a bit early in the game to get in the details,” the MTA spokesman said.

In addition to addressing MetroCard pricing, the authority must also determine how to install card-swiping equipment comparable to the ones at subway stops at ferry landings.

And both the MTA and New York Waterway would have to determine how to process transfers.

“If there’s a free connection, one of the two entities would have to give up a free trip,” said a ferry spokesman.

Greenpoint resident Teresa Toro, who commutes to work via the ferry, says that MetroCards have proven their worth by making transfers between buses and subways more convenient — and she thinks the same would be true for boats.

“You encourage more riders when you make transfers seamless,” she said.

The city-backed ferry service set sail in June 2011, generating considerable excitement among residents in North Brooklyn and DUMBO, who use the boat to commute to Wall Street and midtown Manhattan in as little as 15 minutes.

So far, 715,000 riders have paid for a trip across the East River since its launch — a number that far exceeds the ferry company and the city’s expectations.

If MetroCard machines appear at ferry landings, New York wouldn’t be the first city to link its marine transit with its trains and buses.

San Franciscans use a transit debit card called a “Clipper,” which allows riders to pay for trains, buses, trolleys, and ferries from one source while keeping track of the different fares for each transit system.

And Boston residents get around Beantown by buying a CharlieCard, which allows unlimited travel on buses, subways, commuter trains, and ferries in the harbor.

Transit advocates lauded the idea and called on other transit agencies to join the discussion.

“To paraphrase Tolkien, let’s have ‘one card to rule them all!’ said Transportation Alternatives spokesman Michael Murphy. “There should be one transit card that people can use on the MTA, the ferries, the PATH, bike share, and commuter rail. A seamless public transportation experience would be a welcome development for New Yorkers and regional commuters.”