The Missing Piece in NY’s Ferry Plan

The Mayor is excited about New York’s new “Citywide Ferry” service that is slated to begin this summer. These new ferries are designed to bridge the gap between existing transit solutions and the rapid pace of development, which has resulted in new jobs and residences along waterfront neighborhoods, which are relatively far from transit. City officials eventually project as much as 4.6 million trips per year (about 1.5 days worth of the weekend ridership on the subway, for perspective).

Much ink has already been spilled on smart transportation policy and what it will take to get a New York ferry system right. Ferries must be plugged into the existing transit network, fast and easy to use in order to attract significant amounts of ridership. The nation’s best public ferry is actually already up and running here, it travels between Manhattan and Staten Island, and should serve as a replicable model for how to connect far flung neighborhoods like Far Rockaway to other parts of the city.

Generally speaking, I commend city officials for exploring alternative means of expanding transit. The new plan is the most ambitious public ferry system attempted in New York in several generations.

The scheme, however, has at least one major flaw: it will be far too expensive for riders. While city officials have pegged the cost of a ferry ride to the cost of a metrocard swipe, that means almost nothing because of the realities of how New Yorkers pay for their transit.

Today, unlimited metrocards account for roughly half of all activity on the system. Essentially, a subscription for transit, New Yorkers have grown accustomed to paying a monthly fee for unlimited rides on local busses and trains.

The ferries will not be part of that fare payment system.

Riders, who almost certainly have to purchase a monthly unlimited metrocard anyway, will also be asked to pay an additional fare for boarding the ferry. That fare, pegged at $2.75 per ride, could cost a commuter as much as $27.5 per week and $110 per month in addition to what they’re already paying for subways and busses.

The result will be that many will simply use existing transit options, even if the new ferries are quicker. Only passengers that can and want to pay a premium for a ferry will do so.

This is a formula for less than perfect results.

Featured image from George Rex via Flikr 

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