With the hotly anticipated Lower East Side ferry line finally set to launch next Wednesday, Aug. 29, we took advantage of this breezy, sunny day to board the Friendship Express and preview the new route. Verdict: It was worth the wait.
The 32-minute LES ferry route will connect Long Island City Gantry Plaza to Wall Street/Pier 11 via the East River, stopping at East 34th Street, Stuyvesant Cove and Corlears Hook (colloquially known as Grand Street). The LES line– along with the recently launched Soundview line, which shuttles passengers from the Bronx and the Upper East Side to Lower Manhattan– will join the existing four East River, Rockaway, South Brooklyn, and Astoria routes, which launched in 2017. Three vessels will be cruising the LES line during peak hours to swiftly deliver passengers on time to their destination. On weekdays, the first ferry launches from Long Island City at 6:30 am and the last ferry leaves Wall Street/Pier 11 at 9:20 pm. For a full schedule, click here.
The LES route is expected to serve one million passengers annually, and based on the strong response to the Soundview launch, which saw roughly 3,700 passengers on its opening day, NYC Ferry officials anticipate that they’ll exceed that estimate. “It’s going to be a lot more popular than originally planned,” predicts Jonathan Figueroa, Director of Operations for Facilities and Support Services for the NYC Ferry. “And we’re going to move a lot of people.”
To that end, NYC Ferry’s operator, Hornblower, launched a ground campaign to inform elected officials and community boards to spread word about the new ferry line. Ferry agents will also be deployed for the first few weeks at the landings to assist passengers with purchasing tickets or handling any other ferry-related questions.
The LES route is expected to ameliorate transportation needs for populations that have difficulty accessing other public transit, which includes elderly individuals or residents living in high-density areas a bit further from the subway. “We’ve tried to place our landings throughout the system in places that are close to a lot of population centers as possible,” says James Wong, Executive Director of the NYC Ferry at the city’s Economic Development Corporation. “Stuyvesant Cove, for example, is right across the street from a lot of housing density.”
A May press release predicted the NYC Ferry’s ridership could reach as many as nine million annual passengers by 2023, so the two new routes are a welcome and much-needed addition, particularly as the L train shutdown looms closer every day. And although the L train shutdown plan developed after NYC Ferry came into fruition, it’s likely that some of the 4% of estimated L-train riders offloaded who will opt to use the ferry will shift to the new LES route. The NYC Department of Transportation has promised enough service on the East River to accommodate that demand, per a public hearing in June.
Pro-tip: if you’re new to the ferries, NYC Ferry recommends downloading their app (available on the Apple Store and Google Play) to make your commute go more smoothly. You can also go old-school and purchase fare on-site at any of the landings via a ticket agent or vending machine. The LES ferry offers the standard amenities like a concession stand filled with snacks and various beers on tap and the occasional seasonal delights like margaritas. Keep your eyes glued to the NYC Ferry’s Twitter for updates.
In other exciting updates, the NYC ferry also launched its first 350-passenger vessel, the Ocean Queen Rockstar (standard ferry vessels hold 150 people) back in July. The second 350-passenger vessel, Seas the Day, will be sailing the smooth waters of the East River by the time of the LES route launch. In case you’re curious: the wonderfully punny titles of these cruisers came straight from the mouths of babes—second-grade New York students, to be precise. And thus, a whole fleet of rollicking ferry boats was born.