Much-Vaunted NYC Ferry Stumbles as City Reopens

Long lines, delays, broken boats mar commutes for angry passengers.

Little boat, big complaints: An NYC Ferry boat plies the waters of lower Manhattan. Photo: NYCEDC
Little boat, big complaints: An NYC Ferry boat plies the waters of lower Manhattan. Photo: NYCEDC

It’s a ferry big letdown.

As commuters start trekking back to work and beaches get closer to the July 1 opening, one much-vaunted transit solution appears to be failing them, big time: Mayor de Blasio’s NYC Ferry has suffered multiple problems in recent days: long lines (because of reduced passenger capacities because of social distancing), delays and slow trips due to mechanical difficulties, little (or wrong) information, missing boats.

You name it, some New Yorker has tweeted recently to complain about it.

Ferry service was halved because of falling ridership in the pandemic: a first 30-percent cut in March followed by more last month. A new schedule went into effect on June 27 that was supposed to restore some service, but it hasn’t satisfied customers.

“The line in places where people need it like Sunset Park is ridiculous,” tweeted one customer, Juan Ignacio.

An EDC spokesman blamed the hiccups on the vicissitudes of the COVID-19 emergency, saying that despite adding a significant amount of service this past weekend, the ferries are still are not operating on a normal summer service due to the pandemic. Plus, some vessels were experiencing mechanical issues and had to be taken out of service, the spokesman said.

The EDC spokesman insisted, however, that the schedule has not been further reduced. Last week, 99.4 percent of trips were completed, he said, and as ridership returns, the agency is looking to increase service to meet demand.

The new schedule “increased service on weekends to the Rockaway and East River routes and brought back AM and PM peak service back to all routes on weekdays.”

The ferry — which costs passengers $2.75, but now costs taxpayers $9.34 per-passenger in subsidies, according to the EDC — operates five regular routes: East River, South Brooklyn, Rockaway, Astoria, and Soundview. The service, which is run for the city by a for-profit maritime company, Hornblower, plans to create routes to St. George (Staten Island) and Coney Island (that route would need $24.75 a ride in subsidies) in 2021.

That said, who knows — Comptroller Scott Stringer last year demanded that the Department of Transportation take over money-hemorrhaging service.

Operating since 2017, NYC Ferry has turned out to be a rich person’s ride — many routes connect the residents of the luxury housing of the rebuilt Brooklyn waterfront to their creative or Financial District jobs in Downtown. And it’s also something of a fun boat — after all, unlike the subway, you can drink a beer on board. But the ferry has been anything but a party for riders in recent days.

The East River, Astoria and South Brooklyn ferry routes have drawn their share of complaints, but the Rockaway route has emerged as the most trouble-prone, according to Twitter posters.

“The Rockaway route is experiencing delays. To see which departures are affected, please visit the real-time schedules section of ferry.nyc for real-time boat tracking,” NYC Ferry tweeted on June 25, to which an exasperated customer responded, “Is this gonna be every day now?”

Indeed, yes. The ferry tweeted the same message about the Rockaway route on June 26, which was the same day that it ‘fessed up that the East River route was experiencing delays and that “technical difficulties” were causing the mobile NYC Ferry App and digital displays at the ferry landings to display the incorrect schedule. The ferry hasn’t tweeted since June 26 (laying low, perhaps?), but customers were still registering dismay on June 28, when Alex Barclay tweeted that broken boats were forcing passengers to wait interminably at piers.

“Everybody on this boat should get a refund,” he fumed.

Weekday ridership is averaging about 9,000 a day (compared to 22,000 day during the same time last year), while weekend ridership is about 14,000 a day (compared to 37,000 last year), according to the EDC.

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