Ferry good news — ridership soaring on East River boats

Ferry good news for commuters
Photo by Tom Callan

The East River ferry is staying afloat — thanks to Brooklyn passengers.

Ridership on the city’s water taxi has exceeded expectations, as 448,670 people took a trip on a New York Waterway boat on the East River since it set sail 17 weeks ago.

That’s already 40,000 trips more than the company estimated for the entire year. Three-quarters of those trips are embarking from Brooklyn piers.

“It’s a mixture of out-of-town tourists and Manhattanites, but the overwhelming majority are Brooklynites using it to get to Manhattan and from Downtown Brooklyn to North Brooklyn,” said New York Waterway’s Paul Goodman.

The company launched its city-subsidized commuter ferry service on June 13, providing fast transportation from Brooklyn to Midtown and Lower Manhattan for $4 a ride.

Ridership was steady through the summer. From June 25 to Oct. 9, 2,862 commuters took the ferry on an average weekday, and nearly double that number, 4,474 riders, rode during the average weekend day, according to city figures.

The company’s weekend ridership figures were six times higher than the city projected while average weekday ridership was about twice as high as expected for the summer months.

Ferry executives chalked up its popularity on weekends to “clear skies throughout the fall” and subway construction on some weekends.

“The L-train has a tendency to take itself out of service, and when the L train was down, we became not just a better option but an only option,” said New York Waterway spokesman Paul Samulski.

But city officials say that the true test will be if it can weather the winter months, when boat ridership typically drops.

“The boats are at capacity only on summer weekends and there is still room for people to commute on it,” said Jennifer Friedberg, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation.

The ferry’s schedule is set to change on Nov. 1, when half-hour waits on weekends will be pushed to hourly waits and the Governors Island line will be curtailed.

Peak hour frequency — between 7 am and 9:30 am and between 4:30 pm and 7 pm — will remain 20 minutes between vessels.

But waterfront commuters say they will be committed to taking the ferry even when the temperature drops.

“It has changed my life in a totally positive way — it’s reliable, fast and a perfectly lovely way to start and end each work day,” said Williamsburg resident Susan Fensten.