If you’re worried– as many are– that the rollout of citywide ferry service will be hampered by all the usual delays, Bill de Blasio wants you to chill. The mayor announced today that construction of 19 ferry boats has officially commenced, and the first batch of them will hit city waters in early 2017.
As we speak, some 200 full-time workers are hard at work at Alabama-based Horizon and Louisiana-based Metal Shark, building the first seven boats of the city’s fleet. After that, construction will commence on each new boat in two-week intervals. If that sounds ambitious, don’t worry: The city assures us that in the past, Horizon has produced 40 aluminum boats in 20 months, and they even built 10 oil recovery barges in 30 days during the Gulf oil spill crisis.
Plus, even if the boats aren’t ready, San Francisco-based operator Hornblower will have the option of chartering existing ones to ensure that service to Rockaway, South Brooklyn, and Astoria are launched on time next year. Service to Soundview and the Lower East Side will follow in 2018. Once routes to Coney Island and Stapleton, on Staten Island, are added, over 60 miles of waterway will be covered by the new boats.
The 85-foot-long aluminum vessels will have capacity for 150 passengers, heated decks, and, yes, wifi throughout.
The so-called Citywide Ferry service comes at a time when ferry ridership is up. The mayor’s management report for fiscal year 2016, released last week, indicated that Staten Island ferry’s yearly ridership was up 5.3 percent and the East River Ferry’s ridership was up 16.3 percent, from 113,366 to 131,896. Once the East River Ferry service is folded into the new Citywide Ferry, the current cost of a ride, $4, will be reduced to the price of a subway ride (plus $1 for bikes), complete with free transfers to other ferries in the system. And you won’t even have to swipe a MetroCard: You’ll be able to show your ticket on your smartphone.
All of this will come at a cost to the city, which is investing $55 million in ferry landings and other infrastructure and is subsidizing operation of the boats to the tune of $30 million per year, over six years.
Rockaway residents are particularly eager for service to return to the peninsula. They got a glorious taste of water commuting when emergency ferry service was instituted after Hurricane Sandy, only to lose it in 2014. A map shows that the new service will take approximately 59 minutes to travel between Rockaway and Wall Street, with a stop at Brooklyn Army Terminal. A spokesperson for the NYC Economic Development Corp, which is leading the project, said the Rockaway landing would be at Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive, where the post-Sandy ferry was located. (The New York Beach Ferry also goes to Riis Park during the summer). Service is expected to launch next summer, the spokesperson said.
Another route from Wall Street to Bay Ridge will take a total of 43 minutes, with two stops at Brooklyn Bridge Park and another at Brooklyn Army Terminal. The Lower East Side route will make stops at Wall Street, Grand Street, Stuyvesant Cove, East 34th Street, and Long Island City.
When the Lower East Side service launches, you’ll be able to travel by boat from the LES up to midtown and from there to Greenpoint and Williamsburg (you can see the systemwide map here). It won’t be the most efficient route given that it’ll take a little over half an hour, but with the L train down and free wifi in the mix, it may be your best option other than taking advantage of that new Delancey Street bike lane.
Update, 11:25: This post was updated with information about the Rockaway route’s expected launch date and location.