NYC Ferry reduces service by nearly 6% in winter 2017–18 schedule

For years, my family and I have made New York City’s ferry system a part of our routine. There has long been the Staten Island Ferry, of course, which we take not only with friends and family in town for a closer glimpse of the Statue of Liberty but also for family outings to Staten Island sights such as Snug Harbor and the Staten Island Children’s Museum. And we occasionally used the Hudson River ferries for trips to Hoboken or elsewhere in New Jersey.

But the one we have most made part of our lives is the East River Ferry. My wife works in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just blocks from the East River Ferry’s North Williamsburg landing. A favorite afternoon outing for my children has been meeting my wife after work and then taking the ferry up or down the river for adventures in Lower Manhattan or Midtown or for rides on Jane’s Carousel and exploring Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Riding the NYC Ferry's newly launched Astoria route
One of my sons and my daughter on the NYC Ferry’s Astoria route the day it launched, 29 August 2017.

So we were excited for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to expand the city’s ferry system and to lower the fare to match a MetroCard swipe on the subway or bus. We have taken an inaugural ride on each of the new routes to South Brooklyn, the Rockaways, and Astoria, and we’ve enjoyed the treats offered at the new snack bars on board the new boats. The Astoria route in particular, whose Roosevelt Island landing is just two subway stops from where we live, has become a welcome addition to our routine, not only because it makes our journeys more fun and interesting but also because it offers us an additional step-free transit option — always something we’re looking for with one or two children in a stroller.

In short, I have a personal interest in the long-term success of the nascent ferry system, as do many others who have come to rely on it, and I view it as a key element of New York City’s transportation network as the city continues to grow and waterfront neighborhoods see massive waves of development.

So as the ferry system’s winter schedules start this morning (4 November 2017), I was interested to dig into the new schedules a bit and see what’s changing. Are we gaining or losing service? Here’s a bit of analysis.

AST | Astoria

  • Before the winter schedule changes, the Astoria route was unusual among NYC Ferry routes in that it actually had more service on weekends than on weekdays. But it has seen the most drastic cuts in weekend service: the 28 daily journeys to Wall Street/Pier 11 and 27 daily journeys to Astoria on Saturdays and Sundays have been reduced to 19 and 18 weekend departures in each direction, respectively. That’s an overall reduction of 18 daily journeys on Saturdays and Sunday, a cut of about one-third.
  • On weekdays, the number of Wall Street/Pier 11–bound journeys has been reduced by one, but the number of Astoria-bound journeys remains the same. The bright spot here is that service will run later: the last Wall Street–bound ferry will leave Astoria at 21.55, and the last Astoria-bound ferry will leave Pier 11 at 21.47, compared to the current last runs at 21.05 in each direction.

ER | East River

  • The system’s busiest route will see a slight reduction in service: the 59 one-way journeys each weekday have been reduced to 56, a 5% decrease.
  • Daily weekend trips have been reduced by one, to 41 one-way trips each Saturday and Sunday.
  • The big news here is that the last journeys of the day have been cut from the schedule. If you were used to catching the East River Ferry at nearly 10pm — the last journey to Wall Street used to leave East 34th Street at 21.52, and the last trip uptown left Pier 11 at 21.55 — you’ll have to get to the ferry docks almost three-quarters of an hour earlier: the last trip in each direction now departs the terminals at 21.16.

Note that the East River route includes an early-morning partial journey on weekdays from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to East 34th Street, Manhattan, with an intermediate stop at Hunters Point South, Queens. This partial journey is not included in these figures.

RW | Rockaway

  • There has been no change on the weekday or weekend schedule to Wall Street/Pier 11, but you will get there faster: overall journey times have been reduced by 6 minutes for each trip.
  • Likewise, the schedule to the Rockaways is identical, except the final departure at 21.30 on weekends from Wall Street/Pier 11 has been eliminated.

SB | South Brooklyn

  • The new schedules are a mixed bag. Overall the number of journeys has been reduced, but on weekdays the last trips will be later: 10 minutes later for journeys to South Brooklyn and nearly an hour later — 50 minutes, to be exact — for riders heading to Wall Street. However, on weekends the last journeys will be nearly 40 minutes earlier in each direction.

System-wide

  • Overall there will be about a 6% reduction in weekly service on the ferry. The 1,284 scheduled weekly journeys on the fall schedule have been cut to 1,210 scheduled journeys on the winter schedule — a reduction of 74 weekly one-way journeys system-wide, or 5.76%.
  • On weekdays there will be an approximately 3% reduction in service, with 6 one-way trips cut from the schedule every weekday. Two trips to Wall Street/Pier 11 have been cut from the schedule, and four outbound journeys have been axed.
  • On weekends 22 one-way trips have been cut from the schedule, 11 in each direction, across the routes. That’s an approximately 13% cut in weekend service on the ferry system.

What we can’t tell from these schedule changes is the overall health of the system. The New York City Economic Development Corporation, which has been a key player in the development and launch of the system, reports that ridership is robust and exceeding expectations. The ferry system itself has announced plans to purchase larger vessels to reduce crowding, and riders are giving the system positive reviews in the press.

But are the reductions in service, particularly late at night and on weekends, due to the change in seasons and the fact that the sun is setting earlier? Will late-night service be restored where it has been cut? And will people on outings find more ferry options as the weather warms up in the new year? Time, I suppose, will tell. (AM New York also provided some insight in an article last month, and the Long Island City Post offered some analysis of headway adjustments on the East River and Astoria routes.)

In the meantime, you can see the new schedules on the NYC Ferry’s website. And we await the launch of the new routes to Soundview in The Bronx and along Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the new year. You can be sure my family and I will be among the first riders.

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