The city finally committed cash to prop up long-ailing East River ferry service on Wednesday, ending years of financial struggle among independent ferry operators — but whether commuters will actually utilize the new service is still up in the air.
The Economic Development Corporation has sealed a three-year, $9-million contract with a division of New York Waterway to run all-day service along seven regular stops on the East River starting in June.
It’s the city’s first substantial fiscal commitment to ferry service in years.
“Using the waterway to connect New Yorkers to business districts as well as recreation destinations will encourage economic activity and growth on both sides of the East River,” said EDC President Seth Pinsky. “This robust, regular service will be well-integrated with existing transportation options, providing a new sustainable and enjoyable way for commuters and tourists alike to get around the city.”
Last year, the city committed more than $2.5-million to provide a ferry launch at N. Sixth Street on the Williamsburg waterfront by this spring, and awarded contracts to build a ferry dock at the foot of India Street in Greenpoint.
But that was bad news for operators like the New York Water Taxi, whose service at Shaefer Landing was already struggling to stay afloat without public operating subsidies.
If the program kicks off smoothly, ferries would run every 20 minutes starting at E. 34th Street in Manhattan, to Long Island City, and then to Greenpoint, Williamsburg and DUMBO all the way down to Wall Street. In the summer, additional stops would be made at Pier 6 at Atlantic Avenue and Governor’s Island on Fridays. Fares will range from $3 for up to three stops, to $5.50 for more than three stops.
Still, there are bound to be more problems as the program gets underway. The city’s commitment to New York Waterway may push out the New York Water Taxi — which won’t get any of the city cash — possibly cutting out the Schaefer Landing stop on the way from Greenpoint to the business districts of Lower Manhattan.
Water Taxi spokesman Tom Fox couldn’t be reached by press time.
It’s yet unclear whether people will use the service, too. The current ferry schedule is inconsistent and underutilized. But city officials hope that the new program will be reliable — and cheap — enough to lure commuters.