Quinn Calls for Comprehensive Citywide Ferry Service

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn made a big pitch for enhanced ferry service in her State of the City Address today:

With some neighborhoods more than three quarters of a mile from a subway station we need to examine other modes of transportation. It’s only natural to look at our natural highways … our water ways … to move New Yorkers efficiently and sustainably.

That’s why we are proposing and the Mayor has agreed to begin developing a comprehensive five-borough, year-round New York City Ferry System.

Once again, this is an idea that came straight from listening to New Yorkers.

At a hearing that my colleagues Joe Addabbo, John Liu and I held in Broad Channel, we heard complaint after complaint about commute times from local residents.

Soon after, we began exploring the concept of a pilot ferry service for the Rockaways … got a commitment from the Mayor to fund it … and that service should be up and running by this summer.

But why limit ourselves to Rockaway?

Imagine getting on a ferry in Hunts Point for a day trip to Coney Island.

Or commuting from Astoria to downtown without having to brave the traffic at the Triboro Bridge.

Or traveling from Brooklyn to Queens without waiting for the G train.

And think of how it will enhance our infrastructure, open up our waterfronts and create jobs.

Later this month, we’ll unveil a detailed plan for developing what will be one of the most significant transit initiatives in recent New York City history.

Before we do, I’d like to thank the Mayor, my colleagues, and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, for helping us make this vision a reality – and for working with us to keep our city moving forward.

  • Ferry Queen

    I’d love enhanced ferry service. Though I’m not too optimistic w/ New York Water Taxi shutting down routes because of rising costs and demanding higher subsidies

    My question is:

    Who’s gonna pay for it?

  • nobody

    3/4 of a mile? Why, that sounds perfect for bicycling.

    But bicycling’s free, and thus doesn’t line the pockets of any donors.

  • Equity

    All police placards better be recalled before we give Breezy Point ferry service!

  • Mark

    It works in Venice! Those boats that zip around the exterior of the main cluster of islands are great.

  • jk

    I hope the ferry money is not coming at the expense of the bike/ped and streetscape improvements that could hypothetically come from the NYC DOT / Livable Streets locked box proposed by the Traffic Mitigation Commission. But, given that the overall city budget is being cut, and that money from the congestion pricing charge is committed to the MTA, what other on-going revenue is there to subsidize this new ferry service?

    Refreshing everyone’s memory, the DOT Fund is to be funded with curbside parking revenue, the taxi surcharge, and new parking garage tax revenue from within the congestion pricing zone.

    East River ferries have continued to prove uneconomical, and the subsidies to keep an extensive new ferry network going could be very large.

    I would like to see even a rudimentary cost/benefit analysis of the new ferry network versus what that same money could buy for cyclists and pedestrians. (Per London’s massive investment in new cycling infrastructure.)Hard to believe the City is contemplating an open ended new transit subsidy while continually reducing its funding of current subway and bus riders and doing nothing about sidewalks so crowded that people walk in traffic.

  • Equity

    JK – The problem is that new bicyclists and pedestrians do not replace drivers. They replace transit riders. I guess on certain very congested routes this relieves crowding, but for the most part they are not the problem that needs to be solved. Nor the deal that needs to be cut.

  • jk

    Yes, the deal. We all bow before real politik. The price of congestion pricing may well be a ferry network that costs a lot and does not provide much benefit. However, I disagree with your assertion that increasing cycling and walking will have no impact on driving. If you replace transit trips with walk/bike trips you open transit capacity for motorists.

    Anyway, its questionable that ferries will effectively compete with the point to point time saving of driving into the congestion zone from Brooklyn or Queens unless they are priced really low. The irony of congestion pricing is that driving should get much quicker and regional chokepoints like the BQE and the ERiver Bridges should flow much more easily. So then the ferry competes with the car on price, not time.

  • How many people drive from Astoria to downtown? The subway is competitive at 30 minutes and the parking is much more expensive (assuming you don’t have a placard).

    Ferries would reduce other transit use – maybe provide redundancy. The problem in many areas though is linking ferries to subways usually requires a bus (or walking or bike)…

  • Equity

    Ferries compete on pleasantness. It is just a great way to start and end the day. No parking hassle either. So, will the city offer cops free passage on them? That’s the deal they cut with Goldman Sachs. Goldman built the ferry landing; their employees ride Waterway for free (and make up the majority of its passengers, it appears.)

  • If we want this ferry service to succeed, it can’t be half-assed:


  • ln

    ohmygod, I am agast that I agree with spkr. Quinn on one issue!

    I’ve been advocating for ferrys in NYC for years. The waterways are the most underused travel corridor in this city. Used to be ferries in the 1940s at the end of every major street in manhattan.

    And of course ferries should be part of a comprehensive reasonable one-fare. transit system, paid by Federal State and City funds.

    Just like Istanbul, where ferries, subways, tramways, busses and much more are all paid for with one (same price, same device/card/token) low fare system but operated under many private and public entities. English description is here:

    A list of just a few of the transport options available to this city of over 14 million people here:

  • jk

    Equity, great point about ferries and the cops, firemen, court workers and everyone else with a parking placard or free parking. They won’t be meaningful from a congestion busting perspective unless they get these government folks off the road. Realistically, congestion pricing proponents should probably recognize the NYC DOT Fund as a bribery fund for the City Council. Still, it rankles me that the city, which has nickled and dimed bike/ped stuff forever, is willing to enter into a long-term subsidy of a new transit service with very questionable overall benefits.

  • Equity

    JK – don’t despair. Ferries link best to the waterfront greenways. So they still enhance that mode considerably. Let’s concentrate on making sure that they and their landings are bike-friendly.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Looks like the death throes of congestion pricing to me. Bloomberg and Quinn have done absolutely nothing to sell congestion pricing other than to say they support it. Now as it sinks into the sunset Bloomberg pumps up the JFK rail link, a system with absolutely no voting constituency and a mythological ferry system. NY Waterway has the most effective service so far and it is mired in debt running out of date, school bus conversions from the waterfront to somewhere else.

    And, this is the sort of stuff Quinn is working on while congestion pricing is beached by Mayor Elect Weiner. Absolutely afuckingmazing.

    And politically, don’t worry about the deal JK, real or otherwise, cause the ferry service is just another way to empower Mr. Weiner our next Mayor who will be quick to take credit for bringing home Federal $s on this one.

    And just why should this all be a “one fare” system anyway? The fucking Staten Island Ferry is completely free and Staten Island still doesn’t support one penny in congestion pricing or really favor any MTA capital expansions. And their politicians, like everywhere else, oppose MTA fare increases. More ferries though, what the Hell, why not. Let the efficient parts of the system pay for one more money losing operation but fight those fare increases.

    No, its not real politik, it is fantasy politics for a lame duck Mayor and a term-limited City Council. The Mayor has no (“0”) money other than congestion pricing, (which will not pass), for the MTA, now and probably forever, the core of the NYC transportation system, at a time when he is cutting property taxes and the MTA intends (pretends) to expand the system at his prodding.

  • Equity

    Nicolo – the “deal” is only good when it’s struck. The Staten Island deal was for Giuliani’s election. There’s no taking it back now. Can’t remember what the end of the two fare zone was traded for. That’s why I said the time to get those placards back from Breezy Point is BEFORE the Rockaway ferry goes in.

  • Weiner will not be the next mayor.

  • Bay Ridger

    People want to move to the outer parts of the borough except for one major problem – the commute. Have any of you ever tried to take the R train to Bay Ridge after midnight? Is someone who lives in Bay Ridge and want to have a night out in Manhattan (pouring money into the economy) supposed to sit up to 2 hours on the train to go 5 miles? Even before ferries, we should create “super-express” trains that will take people from Bay Ridge, Coney Island, or outer Queens to Manhattan in less time than is does for someone 5 times the distance on the LIRR.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    The city that never sleeps is that way because the trains run all night. Sorry about your late night commute Bay Ridger. Move to Boston, that will solve your problem, the trains stop running at midnight.

    The head times are long in off peak, longer late at night, thats because so few people use the service and even they are subsidized by the standing room at rush hour. The ferrys do not have any efficient period or run and if they did standing on a ferry wouldn’t be any more appealing that standing on the B train. So you want to posit a system that will run full speed ahead, short head times all night with very few riders. Cool, but someone is going to pay for it. Empty ferries are expensive.

    One reason the ferrys are so pleasant is because no one is on them, since no one is on them they can’t run efficiently. You can call it a one fare zone for everything in the city if you want and charge people accordingly but all you do is drag the system down with enforced inefficiencies.

    The end of the two fare zones was in exchange for a very large fare increase that accompanied the introduction of Metro Card. Great for the outer parts of the outer boroughs, but paid for by standing room in the center city.

    You see how grateful those two fare zones are now for the subsidy, they have been big supporters of congestion pricing, just ask Mr. Fidler, he posts here. I bet he likes ferries too, he and Quinn will agree on that. I bet he is willing to pay for them with someone else’s fares and taxes. Just a guess.

    Otherwise, if the ferry riders are going to pay for it themselves I’m sure there won’t be any problem getting that two in the morning ferry to Bay Ridge or Breezy after a night out on the town in the city.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    Even when I don’t interject, I get dragged in. Thank you Nick.

    I do tend to support ferries because i don’t think we do enough with out waterwways. [See my gowanus Tunnel proposal for one.]

    However, as is the case with the SI Ferry, water taxis cannt take you inland. [Sorry for the fans of the Venice analogy.] they can take you niceky from coast to coast, tho on days like today, you have to wonder who in his or her right mind would be in one.

    So while I like the idea, I think their overall utility is somewhat limited.

    As to who should pay for them, and putting my own words in my moouth, not Nick’s, I am not sure. I am hoinest enoughto admit that I am not expert on the economics of ferry service and the projections for its cost if used more heavily.

    Please note as well that there was no commmitment from the bloomberg Admnistration to actually do any of this, just to look at it. And unlike the pessimists who don’t think that bloomberg and Quinn are working to pass CP, and i can assure you that they are, I think the ferry service issue is a direct result of that effort. Because despite measurable Council support for this in the past from people like Vinny Gentile and David Yassky, the Administration has steadfastly refused to move on it. This includes money that wsa put it inthe budget for ferry service while Gifford Mmiler was Speaker that Bloomberg and DOT refused to move for two years.

    Andywa, I am not going to get deeply into this thred, but since I am awaiting the closing of the polls in MAryland and saw my name dragged into it, I figured I would comment.

    Lew From Brooklyn

    PS Hey, y’know when the CP voting is all done, we ought to have a Streetsblog mixer and you cuold all wear your name tags so we can have a fun reunion.

    PPS I am only half kidding.

  • Jonathan

    Lew, truer words were never spoken:

    I think their overall utility is somewhat limited.

    All those Bay Ridge and Astoria people: have you ever noticed just how far away the shoreline is from the commercial corridor? Sure, a ferry is great, if you want to walk three long blocks (or more) to 3rd Avenue or 31st Street. Brrr.

  • The NY Waterway people have dealt very well with the issue of getting to the waterfront: in Midtown Manhattan, Weehawken, Edgewater and Paulus Hook they have a fleet of buses that meet every boat and take passengers to nearby destinations. That makes a big difference.

    Imagine how many more people would take the ferry if there were a bus taking people from Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge to the dock. Similar for Astoria (which hasn’t been set up yet), LIC, Williamsburgh, Brooklyn Heights and the East Side terminals.

  • Eric

    If Chris Quinn is promoting a big ferry initiative, you can be sure there is ferry-operator money flowing her way in equal measure.

  • And woe betide the small pedal-boat operators who might get in the way of the water taxis…

  • JK

    Let’s see the projected cost of the ferry and the revenue source made public now. Let’s also see how much money the NYC DOT/ “Livable Streets” fund is expected to get from the curbside meters, taxi surcharge and additional garage tax in the pricing zone. This has emerged as the slush fund to woo the City Council. How much will be in it? How much is targeted for ferries? The revenue from the congestion charge has been publicly vetted and debated for months. This proposed NYC DOT fund — which in other times would be considered a very big deal — is completely opaque to the public. Let some sunshine in.

    Lew Fidler, how much does Quinn propose to spend on ferries? Does Council know?

  • AllanG

    If you really want this done right, open the waters to private enterprise. There is absolutely no way on earth that this city (or any city) can perform this service better than private companies.

    But of course, the true intention isn’t to create jobs and improve quality of life. This is another potential city revenue source, regardless of whether you’re butchering a viable service and stepping all over what should be an open market.

  • Ahab

    AllanG private ferry companies haven’t been able to sustain year round service on the East River.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (The problem in many areas though is linking ferries to subways usually requires a bus (or walking or bike)…)

    Ah yes, a bike. This thought has occurred to me recently.

    The problem is the waterfront is too far from the ferry terminals in Midtown. A bus takes forever to get from E34th and the E River to 6th Avenue and 54th Street. I had suggested extending the Times Square shuttle to the E. 34th Street ferry terminal, something the City Planning Commission approval of the East River development without its inclusion will probably kill. (Though the City Council could still require an easement).

    Perhaps this is the place for a Velib-like sysstem.

  • Daniel


    Sorry to allow reality to intrude on what appears to be your deeply felt libertarian ideology but ferries are not and almost certainly never will be a revenue source for NYC. On a per-seat basis, ferries are the most heavily subsidized mode of public transport (moreso than libertarians’ beloved private automobiles, even!). There is no conceivable way that a private operator could run ferry service in NYC without significant government subsidy. Go ask Tom Fox.

  • John Morris

    I think this whole conversation shows that transportation issues cannot be seperated from zoning, density and other land use issues. One of the main problems ferries face in NY is the fact that there has been so little high density residential and office development near the waterfront. As, that development starts to be built, the economics behind some ferry lines will get better.

    There is a logical solution to try out here, which is to look to the developers of waterfront property for some of the cash to support ferry lines. This could be done in a number of ways, from a straight tax on land near the lines to granting development rights to the ferry operator.

  • flp

    re. #29

    that is easy!!! just look at chelsea piers for starters and consider the revenue of the damn place and how the money they could contribute to a ferry service. also, if folks could get there by ferry that would cut down on the traffic – both drunk and sober – around the bike lane and the neighborhood in general.

    sure, it may not be so very convenient for all piers users, but would be helpful for many of them and others in the nabe.

  • AM


    You’re so right. Even with the (admittedly modest) deal Tom and NY Water Taxi cut with the Schaefer Landing developer, his service is losing money. To make the service more attractive, the City/MTA can add on the cost of additional buses to bring people into the core of the CBD and go even further in the red.

    On the other hand, the capital cost to develop a handful of ferry landings and buy ferryboats are relatively modest. Especially compared with, say, the Second Ave Subway, JFK Rail Link, etc. And the federal transit funding formula smiles favorably on ferry service, too (but the money is only available for capital spending).

    By the way, I’m pro ferries. But the City has to be smart about where it makes those capital investments to minimize the operating subsidies over time.

    Here’s some free consulting to get them started: ferry service to the Rockaways? Probably a money pit.

  • John Morris

    Did anyone see the great American Experience documentary on Grand Central Station? As, I remember it the bulk of funding for the project came from land development, since burying the NY Central’s lines and building a great terminal unlocked priceless land for development.

    But to be honest about it — if there had been some NIMBY group saying you could only have two and three story buildings in the area, nothing could have happened. Land use and transportation issues are totally linked.

  • Bay Ridger

    Anyone who thinks that if one chooses to live in the outer boroughs just deal with a 2 hour commute to move 5 miles off peak has no sense of what makes this city great. How come LIRR can get someone to midtown mahattan from 40 miles away faster than someone 5 miles?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Well BR how about trying this out for the howcome? It is really an issue of how frequently you stop the train, that is also one of the issues with regard to the length of your commute. And then there is the simple little issue of head times. Have you checked out the LIRR and MN off peak frequency of service?

    So you run very infrequent service, stop it seldom, run fast and straight and you will see the difference in door to door commute times. I don’t know the precise route of your late night commutes. I used to work third shift in College Point and lived in Brighton Beach, last stop on the D to Last stop on the 7 plus a slow bus to College Point Blvd from Main Street Flushing. Hour and a half. Lots and lots of stops in between.

  • AllanG, what makes you think the waters aren’t open to private enterprise?

  • Aaron G

    In principle I really like the idea of ferry service, but in practice it doesn’t always seem to make sense. I am enthusiastic about any public transportation improvements that can be made with minimal infrastructure build-out, especially ones which reconnect the city with its waterways and offer some respite from crowded, congested streets, but I’m not sure that even Quinn herself truly believes that ferries are a viable solution.

    First, I would like to see some fuel consumption and emissions figures for the ferries. As a sailor, it’s been my experience that even the most efficient motor vessels tend to guzzle a lot more fuel than we are accustomed to using for wheeled vehicles of equivalent capacity. This is a problem not just for low-speed displacement hulls but also for the high-speed planing craft like the catamarans that most of these operators seem to use. Granted, you don’t have the environmental impact associated with infrastructure build-out, but overtime these are less efficient.

    If the ferry is full of passengers, the per-rider fuel and emissions might not be so bad, but if you’re looking for a ride off-peak or in the middle of the night after a party you’re either going to be stranded or you’re going to be a big polluter. A sensible ferry fleet would need to consist of both large and small ferries, with the smaller ones operating during non-commute times such that fuel consumption and emissions could be kept to a minimum without making service so unaccommodating that riders can’t count on it.

    Lastly, I’m a big proponent of waterfront access and renewal, but I think we need to be careful about our waterways becoming too commercialized. Some of our waterways are treacherous enough as is. Those ferries travel at high speeds and leave humongous wakes, frightening away sailors and paddlers. It’s probably a fair generalization to say that commercial captains often resent the presence of recreational boaters and will, passing at close distance, make this clear to you with their wakes. I’d also be concerned about the privatization of certain areas of our harbor, particularly near the ferry terminals and docks. Restricted areas are often created by the Coast Guard in the name of exaggerated homeland security threats, and the harbor is militarized enough already with the Coasties running around with those RIB-mounted machine guns.

    All that said, I just want it to be clear that I’m a skeptic of ferry service – not a naysayer, and for some longer distance express routes ferries are probably a great way to get people out of their cars.

  • Tom T.

    Great ferry service in Venice, huh? What about labor unions?

  • paulb

    This sounds like “big idea” electioneering to me, not sensible public transit planning.

  • Hilary

    As someone who sails regularly in the NY Harbor at the confluence of the heaviest ferry, water taxi and tanker traffic, I can tell you that the conflicts are minimal. Certainly far less than the ped-bike and bike-ped-auto conflicts on the roads. Have you ever seen how dense the traffic was a century ago? The pictures look like you could jump from boat to boat.

  • Larry Littlefield

    No one objects to privately funded ferries. Few object to ferries that consume the same per passenger ferry as subways, or even buses.

    A luxury class service for the few who matter paid for by the many who don’t is what people fear. There is too much of that already, like the Medicaid system and the state school aid formula.

    Remember that NYC essentially stopped funding the MTA years ago, along with the suburban counties and the state, and the agency has been told to borrow the difference and not worry about the consequences.

    It all comes down to money. Once you give people $100 million, do you take it away and close down their service when it isn’t enough, or up it and cut something else? We can’t even restructure low ridership bus routes in this town.

  • jmc

    Why is no one pushing for BRT service? It can be deployed quickly, which politicians love. It’s definitely not as good as rail service, but if there could be some improvements on the most congested corridors it would make some difference. I think the city would be better off making improvements to bus lanes and stations than building docks for a ferry from Astoria to Red Hook.

  • Linking Ferries to Transit is key but activating our regions waterfronts economically is what will make waterborne transportation inevitable rather than desireable. Post industrial waterfronts throughout the region (abandoned for decaddes) from SW Brooklyn to Hastings, Troy, New London and Greenport can once again manufacture NYC’s future by prefabricating materials that need not fit through briges and tunnels. This will not only provide economic revitalization attracting business, recreation and transit to our waterfronts but by focusing on waterborne transport of materials the architecture of our city will become a 21st century reflection of sustainability and commerce. From the West Side Yards to Coney Island, a new typology will emerge that reflects our renewed responsibility to the environment, the health of our City and our quality of life.

  • Yes, really ferries are the right substitute to other transports which are quite busy now a days due to heavy population. Ofcourse ferries offers very sophisticated services and spacious to move comfortably during sailings. The night services may also cost less than the day trip ferrie ticket rates.Overall ferry travel is quite fund and entertaining.

  • Few object to ferries that consume the same per passenger ferry as subways, or even buses.A luxury class service for the few who matter paid for by the many who don’t is what people fear. There is too much of that already, like the Medicaid system and the state school aid formula.


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