NY Waterway marks birth of private ferry revival

Ferry operator NY Waterway put out a low-key media release the other day, promoting its recent $17 million investments in new boats, re-powering projects and other spending to help customers commute between New York and New Jersey.

In a few weeks the company will commission the Betsy Ross, sistership of the Molly Pitcher, a pair of fast aluminum catamarans delivered by Yank Marine, Tuckahoe, N.J.

The new boat is a marker for the 30th anniversary of NY Waterway, and how far the industry has come since founder and president Arthur E. Imperatore made a big bet that the city’s economic revival in the 1980s could also bring back cross-harbor commuting service.

A decade after it faced bankruptcy, New York City by then was benefitting from its growing financial industry, drawing in thousands of workers daily from the New Jersey suburbs.

But getting there was the same daily ordeal it had always been: commutes up to two hours one-way on congested highways and aging rail lines.

A NY Waterway ferry in the East River. Kirk Moore photo.Imperatore established his first ferry link in December 1986, with one boat between Port Imperial in Weehawken, N.J., on the west bank of the Hudson River, and Pier 78 in midtown Manhattan. Three years later, the company began running between Hoboken, N.J., and the Battery near lower Manhattan’s financial district.

Other links followed, across the Hudson and East River, and lower New York Harbor, where the Molly Pitcher and Betsy Ross carry up to 400 passengers each trip in half the time of a rail commute from the Jersey shore. On top of that $10.4 million investment in the new ferries, the company is spending $3 million to refurbish others in the fleet of 37 boats it operates with the Billybey Ferry Co., and $6 million to repower six of its 150-passenger catamarans with cleaner engines surpassing federal and state emission standards.

NY Waterway also operates its own fleet of buses, providing free connections between landside mass transit and its ferry terminals. That fleet will grow to 80 with the addition of 30 buses at a cost of $6 million, funded in part by the Federal Transit Administration under a program that reimburses transit providers based on the number of riders they carry. NY Waterway pays the rest.

It is a success story emulated by other operators over the last couple of decades – and now New York City itself, where Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has awarded its contract for citywide subsidized public ferry services to San Francisco-based Hornblower Inc.

That decision does not sit well with longtime local ferry operators, to put it mildly. But NY Waterway continues to put its money on the table. The company provided all of the $10.4 million financing for its two new boats. The Betsy Ross is the 37th ferry in the combined NY Waterway-Billybey FerryCo. fleet.

“Since we started with one boat in December 1986, we have never stopped investing to give our customers, the safest, fastest, most reliable commuting experience possible,” Imperatore said in announcing the company’s 2016 plan. “We continue to thank our loyal customers by working every day to make their quality of life even better.”

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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