Ferry ridership across New York City’s East River rose 8% to an all-time high in 2016 – a good sign for the impending summer 2017 launch of the new Citywide Ferry Service, the city’s Economic Development Corporation said.

There were more than 1.58 million passenger trips on the East River ferry, up from 1.46 million in 2015, according to the EDC. The busiest day of the year: May 16, a Monday, when the ferries carried 10,510 passengers.

The busiest stop during weekdays was the North 6th Street/Williamsburg terminal. On weekends, the Brooklyn Bridge/DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) terminal sees the most passengers.

By next summer, Citywide Ferry operator Hornblower New York will transition the East River ferry into the larger system – a vast expansion with 19 new vessels, six routes and 21 landings around the city’s boroughs.

Mayor Bill de Blasio aims to make the Citywide Ferry one of his administration’s signature accomplishments, to bring a new transit option to previously remote neighborhoods with growing populations..

“This growing demand is one of the reasons we’re expanding ferry service citywide in 2017…We’re very excited to incorporate the East River route into Citywide Ferry Service, and connect New Yorkers from Soundview to the Rockaways for the price of a subway ride,” EDC President Maria Torres-Springer said in releasing the 2016 ridership figures.
Once Citywide Ferry Service launches, East River ferry fares will drop from $4 on weekdays and $6 weekends to $2.75, the same cost as a subway ride. Ultimately the Citywide system could carry 4.6 million passengers a year, according to city planners.

Whether that will be sustainable is still the subject of debate, including both private ferry operators and transit experts. New York Water Taxi, one of the local operators who unsuccessfully bid for a role in the new system, has warned the city’s rate structure will make it difficult for private operators to stay in business.

Meanwhile, the EDC and Hornblower have a roadshow of sorts making its way around the boroughs – including a model of the 149-passenger aluminum catamarans now under construction at Horizon Shipbuilding, Bayou La Batre, Ala., and Metal Shark’s Franklin, La. yard.

It is part of a publicity campaign to get city residents thinking about the new ferries and the options they will offer. Among amenities like bicycle racks and free wi-fi, Hornblower will offer something else on its route to the Rockaway beaches: surfboard racks.

Contributing 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 an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 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.