NYC Ferry began service on its Lower East Side route Wednesday, completing the initial phase of the six-route public water transit system 16 months after it launched.

The new route originates starts in Long Island City in the borough of Queens, heads down the East River to Manhattan’s East 34th Street landing and two new stops, at Stuyvesant Cove and Corlears Hook on the Lower East Side, before ending at Pier 11/Wall Street.

City officials say the 32-minute run will shorten commute times for residents of Queens and neighborhoods in Manhattan’s Lower East Side that are hard to reach by other public transit.

Since its startup in May 2017 the public system with its $2.75 fare – same as the city subway – has attracted far more riders than planners with the city Economic Development Corporation anticipated. Crowding is particularly acute on summer weekends, and the EDC and operator Hornblower promised soon after the startup to build bigger boats than the initial order of 150-passenger aluminum catamarans.

The first two of the new 97’1”x27’10”, 350-passenger vessels, the Ocean Queen Rockstar and Seas the Day, were delivered this summer by Metal Shark from its Franklin, La., shipyard. Four more of the Incat Crowther designed vessels will be in service for the start of peak season in spring 2019, city officials say.

“NYC Ferries have turned the East River, which once divided New Yorkers, into a point of connection – and are helping us build a fairer city for all,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in announcing the Lower East Side route. “With the launch of the Lower East Side route and the connecting NYC Ferry lines, residents of this historic neighborhood now have greater access to the rest of our city.”

De Blasio has made the $500 million ferry effort a marquee project for his administration, casting it as providing more equitable commuting options for working New Yorkers and helping neighborhoods long under-served by public transit.

But critics and some transit advocates continue to complain the ferry project is pulling in taxpayer money that could be better spent on landside transit used by far more riders. At a public subsidy of $6.60 per rider, the NYC Ferry is underwritten at rates like the region’s most expensive express buses and commuter

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.