News Details

5/25/2012

East River Ferry to Get Bigger Boats for Weekend Crowds

Taken from the New York Times, By Patrick McGeehan

When the operators of the East River ferry service saw the crowds gathering on the landings in Brooklyn last fall, they knew they were going to need some bigger boats. Starting this weekend, they will have them.

BillyBey Ferry Company, which began operating the service last June, plans to switch to 399-passenger models on the East River on weekends. Those boats, which carry commuters across the Hudson River on weekdays, are more than twice as big as 149-passenger vessels BillyBey has run on the East River.

The upgrade was necessary to accommodate the heavier-than-projected demand for the service, especially among tourists and city residents exploring different neighborhoods. The service, which is financed on a pilot basis with $9 million of city money, circulates among seven docks in Brooklyn, Queens and the East Side of Manhattan. (On weekends, boats also stop at Governors Island in the harbor.)

“’You’re going to need a bigger boat’ isn’t just a memorable quote from the movie ‘Jaws,’” the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said. “It’s what we’ve been hearing from New Yorkers due to the overwhelming popularity of the East River ferry.”

Ms. Quinn, who took time out from her honeymoon this week to celebrate the expanded service, has been an ardent supporter of the pilot project. Interborough ferry service has been tried repeatedly without success, but Ms. Quinn and other city officials say they believe it might just catch on this time.

The service, which costs $4 for a one-way trip between any two stops, drew more riders than expected from the start, after allowing people to ride for free on the initial weekends. In its first 10 months, it had 714,000 paying passengers, according to Ms. Quinn’s office.

“There was an expected decline in ridership over the winter, and we scaled back the hours during those months, but we had a solid base of commuters who stuck with us throughout,” said Paul Goodman, the chief executive of BillyBey.

Weekday ridership this spring has already returned to its pre-winter level, Mr. Goodman said. He added that he could not predict how popular the service will be on weekends with the bigger boats because his crews often turned away people for lack of space.

Last fall, Mr. Goodman proposed adding boats, but that would have required more money from the city. The Dumbo landing in Brooklyn was too small to accommodate the bigger boats and too narrow for the herds of passengers boarding and disembarking there, he said. As a compromise, the city last week opened a bigger floating dock 100 yards south, at the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Next Tuesday, the service will add a second boat to its rotation during the period between the morning and evening rush hours, Mr. Goodman said. The boats, which had sold coffee from Brooklyn Roasters, have added other drinks and some snacks with a local flavor, including egg creams made with U-bet chocolate syrup.