NYC Ferry Ushers In New Era of Transit

On an early Tuesday morning, minutes before daybreak, a small crowd of bleary-eyed Islanders craned their necks to get a better look at the pristine white boat steadily making its way toward the Island’s east side. On the deck, City Council Member Ben Kallos, flanked by a wall of news cameras, waited to welcome the Islanders onto the inaugural voyage of the new Astoria route of the NYC Ferry.

Marianne Haugaard was one of the first people to reach the ferry landing.

“It’s a great thing,” said Haugaard, who has lived on the Island for the past six years. “I’m Danish, so for us, waterways are a way of communication, a way of discovering your environment.” She had planned to take a later ferry with friends, but then decided she didn’t want to wait. “This ferry is really welcome.”

When it comes to Roosevelt Island transit, 2017 has been a year of joy and pain.

Maintenance work on the Tram has brought headaches to residents and visitors – with long lines and delays expected to continue for at least the next several months. And system-wide glitches on the subway have made getting around the rest of New York City a more difficult experience.

But 2017 also brought the debut of the Second Avenue Subway, a line that (when it’s running smoothly) can propel Islanders to the Upper East Side with ease, as well as offering a quicker transfer to the southbound Q.

And now, with the August 29 opening of the Island’s own ferry terminal, residents can add an entire new form of transportation to their list of options.

The new route – an expansion of the NYC Ferry network that launched on May 1 – links the Island to points in Astoria, Long Island City, Midtown, and Lower Manhattan. It’s expected to carry about 1,800 daily riders, with boats running every 25 minutes during rush hour.

The new ferry stop – a modest yet sturdy-looking structure – sits on the east side of the Island in the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge, just a short walk from the Tram. With Red Buses buzzing along and the Tram whirring into the air nearby, the area is beginning to feel like a proper transit hub.

To ride the ferry, passengers must purchase a $2.75 ticket from a machine located at the ferry terminal or (the easier option) buy passes with the NYC Ferry app. The software is fairly easy to use, and riders can just flash their phones to crew members as they board.

Several riders bemoaned the fact that the Ferry doesn’t accept MetroCards or offer free transfers to the subway.

Local politicians, including Council member Ben Kallos and Congress member Carolyn Maloney, rode the inaugural Astoria ferry.

Haugaard, who works at the United Nations, says she’d love to be able to alternate between the Tram and ferry depending on her mood. However, as she currently buys a monthly MetroCard for her commute, paying an additional fare isn’t really practical. “I will still take the ferry from time to time,” she said.

It’s worth noting that the Tram didn’t accept MetroCards either, until 2004, about a decade after that payment method was first introduced (taking the place of tokens). So there’s hope that NYC Ferry will follow suit, though it may take a while.

The ferry itself is beautiful (nothing beats new ferry smell). There’s an indoor seating area complete with a concession stand offering food, drinks (including beer and coffee), and gifts. But the upper deck – with its unobstructed views of both sides of the East River – is definitely the place to be.

On its inaugural voyage, the boat made the trip from Roosevelt Island to Midtown in just about 16 minutes, including the stop in Queens, before continuing on to Wall Street. At 34th Street, passengers were greeted by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who sees NYC Ferry as one of his signature achievements. After some early complaints about delays and crowding when it launched in the spring, the ferry system has quickly become one of New York’s most popular forms of transportation. According to a survey by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, 93 percent of riders give the NYC Ferry a satisfaction rating of seven or higher (out of 10).

Still, the ferry only makes sense as a commuting option if you work in the right place. People traveling to the northern part of Midtown are probably still better off taking the F train or the Tram. If you’re heading closer to the Empire State Building or down to Wall Street (after the 34th Street stop, the ferry proceeds to Pier 11 in the financial district), riding the waterways may work for you.

During commute hours, riders can catch a free shuttle from the 34th Street ferry terminal that leaves every 20 minutes and carries passengers west to Sixth Avenue, then north to East 48th Street, east to Lexington Avenue, and then back south to the ferry terminal.

For now, the ferry’s novelty is still strong, and Island residents seem eager to try it out – regardless of where they work. No matter where you’re headed, taking a cruise down the East River for a mere $2.75 is hard to beat.

“It’s opening up opportunities on the weekend, to have dinner in Long Island City or brunch,” Haugaard said. “When you have friends coming, it will be nice to be able to say, ‘Let’s get on the ferry.’”

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