The NYC Ferry public system booked close to three million riders in its first seven months of operation, exceeding 2017 projections by 34%, according to city officials.
As of Dec. 31 the new fleet had carried about 2.89 million passengers on four routes, according to figures released Jan. 11 by the New York Economic Development and NYC Ferry by Hornblower, the operator of the ferry system.
Most of those riders were on the East River route that carried 1.59 million passengers since the May 1 startup. EDC officials say that represented a 17% rise in ridership compared to the old East River Ferry that carried 1.36 million passengers during the same May-December period in 2016.
Next in popularity was the Rockaway route with 545,000 riders. The longest route at about 45 minutes to the far-flung seaside enclave in Queens, the Rockaway ferry received an enthusiastic reception from residents whose other commuting options are lengthy rail or bus treks to Manhattan.
The South Brooklyn route attracted 464,000 riders after its June 1 start, and the Astoria route attracted 290,000 passengers after launching Aug. 29.
The spring and summer months of the subsidized $2.75 ferry system attracted many more riders than anticipated — good public relations for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, but major headaches for riders and ferry operators who had to contend with long lines and crowding on some days, particularly summer weekends.
The crowds were exacerbated by New York’s subway and commuter rail problems over the summer, and EDC officials announced they would upsize the next Incat Crowther-designed aluminum catamarans from 149-passenger capacity to 349 passengers. Six of those vessels are being constructed by Metal Shark in Franklin, La., for delivery this spring.
Horizon Shipbuilding, Bayou La Batre, Ala., delivered most of the initial fleet along with Metal Shark, but encountered major financial shortfalls with the contract that contributed to Horizon’s bankruptcy filing in late October 2017, leaving subcontractors unpaid.
Despite the startup troubles, city officials tout the system as a successful start to what de Blasio has cast as a new commuting option for underserved borough neighborhoods.
“Now we’re looking forward to launching two more routes in 2018, helping even more riders connect to good jobs and opportunities,” EDC president James Patchett said in announcing the year-end numbers. Those new routes, to the Lower East Side and Soundview, will start later this year.