Home Public Transit Policy Mayor de Blasio proposes a citywide ferry network and here we go again

Mayor de Blasio proposes a citywide ferry network and here we go again

by Benjamin Kabak


Another year, another New York City politician jonesin’ for some panacea of citywide ferry service that won’t solve any problems. This time, the honors belong to our Mayor who, in his State of the City speech earlier this week, promised 13 bus rapid transit routes by the end of 2017 and six new ferry routes over the next few years. He later said on NY1, apparently without joking, that he feels the ferry service can alleviate subway crowds.

As far as ferries go, I’ve written about this topic more times than I care to revisit, but here we are. Politicians latch onto it because it’s easy. Adding ferry service doesn’t involve taking away an oh-so-precious lane of parking or — gasp! — driving and it doesn’t involve a multi-billion-dollar layout of cash that leads to disruptive and lengthy construction. It sounds good — because who doesn’t like boats? — and gets people talking because it’s different. Despite de Blasio’s claim, it won’t do one iota of good for subway service and doesn’t solve the intertwined issues of funding, congestion and reliability currently plaguing our aging transit network.

But let’s look at what de Blasio said. During his speech, he announced the idea: “Today, we announce that we’re launching a new citywide ferry service to be open for business in 2017. New ferry rides will be priced the same as a MetroCard fare, so ferries will be as affordable to everyday New Yorkers as our subways and buses. Residents of the Rockaways and Red Hook and Soundview will now be closer to the opportunities they need, and beyond connecting residents to jobs in Manhattan, our new citywide ferry system will spur the development of new commercial corridors throughout the outer boroughs.”

Later, his office released details on the funding plans. The map you can see above, and while the heavy lines demarcating preexisting service make the plan look more all-encompassing than it is, it’s stretching the boundaries of viable ferry service. de Blasio said the city will provide operating support, though the amount of subsidies aren’t yet clear, and will spend $55 million on capital commitments. The Coney Island-Stapleton-Wall St. route that will, on the leg between Brooklyn and Staten Island, attract approximately no riders wasn’t included in this cost projection.

As long-term readers know, I’m not a fan of this infatuation with ferries, and I’ll get into that in a minute. First, though, let’s stop to acknowledge that ferry service can be useful. It’s a complementary element of a robust transit network that can bridge awkward gaps. The service from Astoria Cove — a new development nearly a mile away from the subway — can bring residents who work at Manhattan’s East Side hospitals to their jobs. The service from Bay Ridge to Wall St. would be more useful with a stop at Industry City, but it too can solve a problem.

That said, no matter how many times politicians leap to embrace ferries, the same problems remain. It is, flat out, not a substitute for subway service and, because of the scale of ridership figures and planned routing, won’t help alleviate subway congestion. If it takes a few cars off the road, so much the better, but the mayor should be looking at high capacity solutions to the city’s mobility problems. Simply put, ferries aren’t the answer, and now, I’ll explain why.

1. Connectivity

A good transit network connects homes and offices. On a good night, I can leave work and be home in 30 minutes, and my ride is a zero- or one-transfer, one-fare journey. The utility of any transit network should be based on that concept, and the ferry system falls flat. It may be a nice way to travel, as many defenders have pointed out, but it doesn’t really connect people’s homes and jobs. At best, it serves those folks who live on the Brooklyn waterfront with their jobs at Wall St. which brings me to….

2. Poorly Placed Subsidies

It’s never cheap to operate a ferry network. In fact, the Rockaway ferry was running the city as much as $30 a passenger in subsidies. With the exception of the Soundview and Rockaway ferry proposals, the mayor’s routes by and large connect to areas of people who can afford waterfront housing and bring them to their high-paying jobs in Wall St. and Midtown. This reeks of a subsidy for people who don’t need subsidies. Is that how to solve concerns about middle class viability in New York City, as the mayor stressed, and mobility?

3. The Fare Structure

In effect, the fare issues are a subset of points 1 and 2. The mayor wants an affordable fare, which is a commendable goal, but he won’t be able to ensure one-fare rides or a transfer between ferries and subways and buses. The MTA hasn’t expressed any willingness to forego revenue for the sake of a city-run ferry network, and I don’t blame them. Thus, anyone trying to get from a ferry stop inland is looking at a two-fare ride, and few New Yorkers want to subject their wallets to a double dip like that.

4. The Rockaways, Again

A crazy part of this specific proposal is the Rockaway ferry route. For some reason, this has become a hot-button political issue in a neighborhood that de Blasio would love to see vote for him in 2017. Amusingly, though, the mayor canceled this very same Rockaway ferry route four months ago because it was too expensive and nobody rode it. What will change between now and 2017? Probably nothing except that the mayor will be up for reelection. Color me skeptical.

5. Ferries Aren’t A Solution

For $55 million in capital funds and, optimistically, $20-$30 million in annual operating costs, the city could do wonders for the bus network. Instead, de Blasio is spending his political capital on a system that likely won’t see daily ridership exceed that of 1 or 2 peak-hour subway trains. These routes — most of which don’t parallel subway lines and aren’t faster that the trains — won’t alleviate congestion as subway ridership continues to climb at steep rates. In fact, the ferry plans take away from a real debate on sustainable funding, political support for transit and high-capacity growth.

So there you have it: one thousand words on ferries at a time when literally no politician wants to tackle issues of cost control, congestion pricing or capital plans. That’s de Blasio’s New York for you.

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JJJJ February 5, 2015 - 12:05 am

Ive been posting for years that ferries were coming to Laguardia to save the day.

Phase 3, guaranteed.

John-2 February 5, 2015 - 12:18 am

Does the plan call for rebuilding the 34th Street el, too? At least in the Wall Street area, many of the destination office buildings are only within 2-4 blocks of the riverfront dock — that’s not the case at 34th. Crosstown bus traffic is already painfully slow even with SBS there, and considering that city (and state) officials didn’t want people walking to and from underground subways in the past two weeks during bad weather, what kind of midtown ridership do the expect to see during the winter months, with people having to schlep all the way to at least Madison Avenue to get into the Midtown business district there?

vanshnookenraggen February 5, 2015 - 12:52 am

This just seems a way to increase development along the waterfront in some hand out to the real estate lobby.

adirondacker12800 February 5, 2015 - 1:57 am

No doubt they should keep them running in storms for the three people who are too stupid to stay where they are. until they have experience with them capsizing due to snow and ice buildup on them in the high winds.

Ryan February 5, 2015 - 7:34 am

Since no other part of this proposal is legitimate transit, allow me to contribute to this insanity by being the first to propose a 34 St monorail!

We’ll be able to save big on starting capital costs by purchasing all our rolling stock from our friends in Sydney.

Billy G February 5, 2015 - 10:21 am

Nah, just put in a bunch of Schweebs and use short buses for the old and infirm.


Jason February 5, 2015 - 12:24 am

The question that pops into my mind is, how far are people willing to walk to get to the waterfront or would bus routes be implemented to take them there?

SI Ferry has SIR and buses. The ferries at LIC has the 7 and the LIRR. So who would actually schlep to these new ferry terminals?

anon_coward February 5, 2015 - 8:53 am

it’s for people who already live on the waterfront so they don’t have to walk the half a mile to a mile to the nearest subway station

Jeff February 5, 2015 - 10:04 am

But they still need to walk that mile to wherever they work, which completely defeats the purposes.

anon_coward February 5, 2015 - 10:15 am

but it’s not like everyone works right outside their subway station either. i work on 7th and it’s and it is a nice walk when i take the E or F.

Jeff February 5, 2015 - 10:21 am

It’s still not the same walk as the East River waterfront to where most office buildings are in the city.

anon_coward February 5, 2015 - 10:36 am

and you still have the problem of full trains at the last stop. i see a lot of people on roosevelt island running back and forth trying to find a spot to squeeze into the F train. Same with the E at 23st Ely.

JE February 5, 2015 - 10:37 am

Not only is it a long walk from a dock to the office for many would-be ferry users, but there’s also some sort of incline.

John-2 February 5, 2015 - 10:35 am

The map has way too many boats coming in at 34th for it just to be for people already living in the Kips Bay area. But since the residential part of 34th extends all the way between Park and Madison avenues, the question for any ferry service is will it attract enough people willing to use the service in bad weather conditions?

If it’s only going to be one that attracts decent ridership in the late spring/summer/early fall when walking three quarters of a mile or more from the river isn’t a battle with the elements, then it’s really just a vanity project by the mayor and not a serious attempt to improve year-round communting.

Bronx February 5, 2015 - 6:55 pm

This is why creating a pedestrian/transit way along 34th, 42nd and others makes sense. Imagine being able to jump on a street car as you came off the ferry.

Keith Williams February 5, 2015 - 12:51 am

You, sir, have the patience of a saint. Kudos.

(Although, really, in the future, whenever a new ferry line is proposed, just say “It fails to meet criteria 1 and 3,” link back to this post, and get back to wedding planning.)

SEAN February 5, 2015 - 10:46 am

Wedding planning? Did someone have a Jennifer Lopez flashback?

Kevin February 5, 2015 - 1:32 am

As a Staten Island resident since 2009, taking the Staten Island Ferry is much different then the ferries Mayor de Blasio is referring to. The Staten Island Ferry is larger and can operate during foggy weather conditions. Those ferries de Blasio refers to will not operate when the wind speed increases or weather becomes too foggy. In fact, most ferry services are even reduced during winter season. I doubt very much that this new ferry service proposed by the Mayor is a good idea.

Chris C February 5, 2015 - 5:44 am

Seems to me that $55m of capital would enable the MTA to improve (or at least deep clean) a number of stations benefiting more people ( and De Blasio voters) than a ferry ever would.

And $20 – $30m recurring would then enable the MTA to keep those stations well maintained on an ongoing basis.

Jeff February 5, 2015 - 10:20 am

Problem is De Blasio voters won’t know about that money. So him investing in the MTA is completely pointless for him.

It’s all about the publicity.

Chris C February 5, 2015 - 4:31 pm

Oh he can get lots of photo ops at all the stations that he cleans up (and keeps clean)

Justin Samuels February 5, 2015 - 8:27 am

I agree with Ben and the majority here that this money would be better spent on providing additional bus service. The problem with the ferries is that people will at least on one side have to transfer to a bus or a subway, if not transfer to a bus or subway on both sides.

De Blasio has had good ideas on certain issues like housing, NYC IDs, etc, so perhaps he’ll come up with more stuff for transportation.

Congestion pricing no longer has Sheldon Silver as the speaker in the way, so as things settle down in Albany now might be the time to start pushing it through.

Bolwerk February 5, 2015 - 9:00 am

I hope you don’t mean “come up with” as in he’ll make up what to do himself. There are plenty of decades-old transportation plans that still more or less deserve to be implemented.

Cuomo is probably a bigger CP opponent than Silver.

Joe Fubeetz February 5, 2015 - 8:54 am

Ferry riders are the new Welfare Queens.

Bronx February 5, 2015 - 7:00 pm

Well if this comes to fruition, this guy right here will be riding. Call me the Queen, the King, whatever. Sure beats the 6 train and with my Citi Bike membership or my folder I can get around Midtown/UES just fine.

sonicboy678 February 5, 2015 - 8:40 pm

Why not just get your own bike?

ascottfalk February 6, 2015 - 12:21 am

Bike share and ferries should complement each other brilliantly. For ferries to be viable, it needs to be easy to get to/from the edge of the city, and Citi Bikes help make that possible.

Bronx February 6, 2015 - 6:53 am

My biggest concern is balancing issues.

AG February 8, 2015 - 8:20 am

I don’t have a problem with ferries… BUT they should be charged a more realistic price. They should at the very least cost as much as an express bus… Charging the same fare as a subway ride is complete political folly… If bus routes get cut when budgets shrink – what will happen? This mayor doesn’t get how money works… Just like his idea to build an “affordable housing complex” over Sunnyside Yards. That is a joke – the platform will be terribly expensive – so you will need a whole lot of market rate – or commercial/retail to make it viable. It’s a big political joke.

Bolwerk February 8, 2015 - 10:46 am

Ferries may be folly, but the only snowball’s chance in hell they have of being useful is to have the same fare as buses and subways.

The only sensible choices are do it that way, or don’t do them. (I’m inclined favor the latter, personally.)

AG February 8, 2015 - 3:57 pm

NY Waterway is an example of how to run ferries… Of course there are reasons they don’t bother with certain routes. The idea that they are “affordable transit” is what is folly – not that they can’t be useful.

Bolwerk February 8, 2015 - 7:15 pm

I don’t know if this is possible, but if the per-passenger-mile costs get down the same as buses I don’t see a reason to complain. Yes, the ride might still cost, in public subsidies, more than an average bus ride, but that would be because the ride is typically longer.

Complaining about that would be sort of like complaining about an exceptionally long bus ride.

lop February 8, 2015 - 2:28 pm

The ridership model in the NYCEDC ferry study back predicted a revenue maximizing fare of 2.75 in 2013$ for most routes.

threestationsquare February 8, 2015 - 4:48 pm

Having them cost an express bus metrocard fare (with the same free transfer to local bus/subway, the same discounts, the same weekly pass, etc) at least seems preferable to the East River Ferry status quo of $4 ($6 weekends) with no integration with the rest of the system. It would likely be cheaper operationally too, just stick a bus farebox at the door instead of needing to maintain a whole independent fare collection infrastructure with vending machines and ticket takers.

While we’re at it, an express bus Metrocard swipe should also cover an off-peak Metro North or LIRR ride within the city.

Bronx February 6, 2015 - 6:52 am

I have a full size. If I used the ferry I would probably purchase a folder.

Bolwerk February 5, 2015 - 8:54 am

Anything but the obvious: we need to build subways, and we need to build them faster, cheaper, and more prolifically.

anon_coward February 5, 2015 - 9:46 am

being that every new subway proposal is to keep on building in manhattan, how does it help the majority of us who don’t live in manhattan?

and most of the stations are at least a half mile from the water because the tunnel has to slope down to go under the river bed, how would you build a station by the east river for the riverfront developments? and then you have the problem of the trains already being packed full by the time they get to the last manhattan bound station in queens or brooklyn

Bolwerk February 5, 2015 - 11:05 am

Most outstanding proposals are not in Manhattan at this point. Triborough RX and RBB both are in the boroughs. Utica and Nostrand are good historical projects.

But if you mean politicians seem to think you need Manhattan density to support rail, I agree they seem to fall into that trap.

Eric February 5, 2015 - 3:44 pm

At NYC construction costs, you DO need Manhattan density to support rail.

Bolwerk February 5, 2015 - 4:18 pm

To at least some extent, those are Manhattan construction costs too. Not to mention poorly executed, overbuilt projects.

Phantom February 5, 2015 - 8:12 pm


Very many of us who don’t live in Manhattan work there or go there for pleasure. So subway improvements in Manhattan actually help many of us in the other boroughs.

anon_coward February 6, 2015 - 1:12 pm

and it’s already full of subways. at this point they need to extend the system out to the Nassau border and do a Bronx/Queens/Brooklyn line before building out anything else in manhattan

Andrew February 8, 2015 - 11:06 pm

Extending crowded lines without adding capacity in the core is an excellent way to ensure that existing riders can’t fit on the train anymore. Even without an extension to the Nassau border, the E/F is at 95% of capacity.

adirondacker12800 February 9, 2015 - 2:12 am

The plan 50 years ago was to run new trains local from Jamaica to the border with Nassau. Then run them express on new tracks separate from the Queens Blvd lines.

Larry Littlefield February 5, 2015 - 9:50 am

While the politicians get in the press with their fantasies, we are set to lose the subway we already have.

Jeff February 5, 2015 - 10:32 am

There’s no point anymore in asking for the impossibility.

The more optimistic scenario is in ten to twenty years driverless cars become a reality and become widely adapted. At which point trains might just become an obsolete technology.

SEAN February 5, 2015 - 10:53 am

Don’t even go there. When the first driverless car crashes or malfunctions, the whole enterprise will come crashing down.

Jeff February 5, 2015 - 11:08 am

That’s what they used to say about driverless trains too, you know.

Sad thing is, at this rate, we’ll have driverless cars on the roads, and the MTA will still be trying to retrofit CBTC into the subway system.

Bolwerk February 5, 2015 - 12:00 pm

Driverless trains on a grade-separated guideway were probably a pretty simple application, as technological progress goes. They happened not long after digital computing went commercial (1960s at the latest).

Driverless cars may or may not be in near future,* but they aren’t going to make most existing transit obsolete. What transit they do replace will probably be low-traffic bus routes, not rail. Rail, heavy or light, will still be more efficient than driverless cars on high-traffic routes for all the reasons it’s already more efficient than buses on high-traffic routes.

* Personally I don’t see them happening very soon, but more for social than technological reasons.

adirondacker12800 February 5, 2015 - 4:08 pm

The NYCTA was doing it with analog systems in the early 60s.

adirondacker12800 February 5, 2015 - 4:07 pm

Driverless cars have been just a few years away for decades. It’s like fusion energy. Should be all over the place within ten years since the end of World War II.

Eric February 8, 2015 - 6:06 am

Starting in the 1920s, people speculated about driverless cars which navigated based on modifications to the roadbed. While this could work in theory, it has never been seriously considered in practice because it would require rebuilding all the country’s roads.

In the 1980s, driverless cars which navigated by computer vision began to be researched.

In the 1990s, such cars began to do partly autonomous test drives.

In the 2000s, most major car companies began researching driverless car systems.

In 2012, a driverless car passed a licensing test for the first time.

In 2013, cars with some driverless features were released to the market.

In 2014, a fully driverless vehicle driving at up to 12mph was released to the market.

This is not an example of being “just a few years away for decades”. This is a clear case of exponential growth, where little happens for decades, but once a critical point is reached the technology explodes. And the critical point has been reached.

Bolwerk February 8, 2015 - 10:52 am

The critical point is consumer electronics are shit cheap now. Digital camera and motion sensor technology related to mobile phones probably has application with driverless cars. Still, getting them safe and reliable is probably a ways away. And then we can discuss the social and legal implications.

One way or another, decades away is probably a safe bet.

Bronx February 5, 2015 - 6:45 pm

Doubt it. No room in this city for millions of cars. Perhaps in the suburbs.

AG February 8, 2015 - 8:25 am

Driverless cars or not – the roads won’t be able to carry as many people as subways… Unless you plan to double and triple deck cars and build huge subterranean caverns to keep those cars.

You also have a notion that this country can get it’s road/insurance/tech infrastructure in place for roads full of driverless cars before CBTC will be on the subways??? The U.S. can’t even get laser headlights or even adaptive LED headlights like Audi and BMW sell overseas… It’s still illegal here. That’s laughable. I took years even for the U.S. to approve “clean diesel” technology other countries had for years.

Bolwerk February 8, 2015 - 11:01 am

You might be able to close to double capacity. Maybe more, if they make ride-sharing easier.

I think driverless cars have exciting potential for transit, actually. The economics of vehicle ownership would change drastically. Suddenly it would only make sense for enough vehicles to exist to meet peak demand.

Plus they mean fewer cars doing more work. More efficient, so expect car companies to try to protect the status quo by any means necessary.

lop February 8, 2015 - 1:59 pm

Clean diesels required ULSD, which meant you have to change oil processing on a wide scale, not just permit the sale of a vehicle with some feature.


Doesn’t BMW offer adaptive headlights in the USA right now?

If driverless cars require large scale infrastructure changes to accommodate, they won’t show up anytime soon. If they are a drop in solution so to speak, that requires only that liability be shifted from the operator who types in a destination to the manufacturer then they’ll show up in some states within a decade, at least in some limited capacity, i.e. maybe they won’t drive in certain weather conditions or know how to find a parking spot in an unmapped garage. Once they’re developed enough that inevitable crashes will be rare enough that they won’t sully anybody’s brand name then you’ll see congress or state legislatures work swiftly to cap liability for car manufacturers, solving the insurance issue.

adirondacker12800 February 8, 2015 - 2:27 pm

From Wikipedia sourced to paywalled sites or dead links:

After December 1, 2014 all highway, non-road, locomotive and marine diesel fuel produced and imported will be ULSD.

lop February 8, 2015 - 2:52 pm

Clean diesels are available and have been for years.

AG February 8, 2015 - 4:08 pm

1) yeah but the issue this is a nation built for the car… Clean diesels allow for people to have much better gas mileage without damaging the air as much as old diesels… Point is that it still took a good while for it to happen here – and it wasn’t even that major.

2) I was talking about these lights… then of course the newer lasers are even further away


3) yeah all you say is possible… still doesn’t mean CBTC won’t happen first or that they will ever be able to carry as many people (driver less cars) as the NYC subway system.

Andrew February 8, 2015 - 11:13 pm

The E/F/M/R trains carry over 55 thousand people through Queens in the peak hour, on 50 trains. Somehow I don’t see driverless cars magically carrying 55 thousand people along one corridor in one hour (on top of all of the preexisting vehicular traffic).

threestationsquare February 5, 2015 - 9:12 am

If a ferry to LGA got politicians to stop proposing billion-dollar-boondoggle airport rail links, it might be worth the few million a year it would lose.

The route shown from the Upper East Side to Wall St could be promising, as it would take some (tiny fraction of the) rush-hour pressure off the Lexington Ave line, and serves a market that could potentially tolerate high unsubsidised fares without transfers (like those profitably charged by the NJ ferry operators). Ideally a private ferry company would start it themselves but political support likely helps with regulatory obstacles. The other routes shown are jokes though, for the reasons you state.

kevd February 5, 2015 - 10:53 am

Aren’t there already express buses from the UES/Yorkville to Wall St doing exactly what such a ferry would do, but without the lovely views?

threestationsquare February 5, 2015 - 12:26 pm

Not that I’m aware of? There used to be a couple but they were cut in 2010. I don’t think that’s a very good substitute anyway though; buses on such a route would get stuck in traffic pretty badly at rush hour, especially as they can’t use the FDR north of 23rd St. I think a UES-Wall St ferry could even be competitive with taxis in rush hour traffic.

Eric February 5, 2015 - 3:52 pm

Yep, UES-Wall St and probably UES-34th St too.

threestationsquare February 7, 2015 - 11:57 am

Eh, getting from E 34th to almost anywhere involves fighting traffic again (or quite a long walk), I think that’s a lot less likely to be useful.

Eric February 8, 2015 - 6:43 am

Yes, it’s an annoying walk from E 34th. Of course, it’s also annoying to stand in a packed subway or bus. I think this could particularly draw a number of riders from the 1st Ave/York Ave areas on the UES. These people have a long walk to Lexington Ave anyway, why not do the same walk at the destination rather than the origin? You don’t have to attract everyone, but everyone who chooses to take the ferry is one less person crowding up the train/bus/street for their trip to Midtown.

Andrew February 8, 2015 - 11:14 pm

They will have a shorter walk to the Second Avenue Subway when it opens in a few years.

lop February 6, 2015 - 3:06 am


They looked at a few scenarios. Route ‘3’ was E90>E62>Pier 11, with 17 minute headways, a fare of 2.75 ridership was projected to be 2073 trips per day, only operating during peak hours. ‘3B’ was Soundview>E90>E62>Pier 11, same number of boats gave longer headways of 29 minutes, and even with the extra stop lower ridership of 1590. ‘3B Select’ seems to short turn one of the boats at E90 instead of heading all the way to Soundview, producing headways of 22 min at E90 and 44 min at Soundview, and had ridership of 1855.

The report supported option 3B, because it was the best performing route they looked at that went to the Bronx. Estimated capital costs at 62nd street were 7.3 million, and at soundview 9.3 million. Required annual subsidy was 4.3 million for 3 boats at peak.

I’m not completely sure, but I don’t think the ridership projection is based on an operating second avenue subway phase 1.

adirondacker12800 February 6, 2015 - 1:25 pm

…so one whole rush hour subway train of people! oooooh! Maybe one and half if it wasn’t very crowded.

threestationsquare February 7, 2015 - 12:20 pm

With ridership like that it doesn’t seem worth it, but it would be nice if they could give it a try and see if it overperforms. Since the E90th terminal is already there a simple E90th-Wall St service could start without any capital costs right?

How do the expensive NJ ferries manage to compete with PATH? Daily NYWaterway ridership is reportedly 30k.

lop February 7, 2015 - 4:55 pm

I guess it could start without capital costs – anybody have a ferryboat lying around that they aren’t using this summer to give it a shot? As a check on the projected ridership, route 6, rockaway – brooklyn army terminal – pier 11 was forecast to have 959 daily trips at a fare of $2.5. Summer peak was in august, ~1300, winter was closer to 700.

NYMTC regional travel patterns


Hasn’t been posted since Q1 2014. NY Waterway gets ~15k in the summer, billybey is about the same. NJ ferries have worse public transit competition, and driving/cabs are more expensive because of PA tolls, so there’s more demand for some other premium option for NJ-Manhattan travel than intra-manhattan travel.

billybey/nywaterway ntd profiles if interested


threestationsquare February 7, 2015 - 11:21 pm

Well, at least in the past common ridership models have more often overestimated ridership for more suburban routes and underestimated it for more urban routes, so I’m not sure if the Rockaway situation is comparable to E 90th.

Thanks for the links.

JAzumah February 8, 2015 - 3:38 pm

I should note the property value boost given by ferry service in this report. It is clear that ferry services make waterfront property more attractive. However, the levels of ridership can be generated and serviced by express bus service.

Larry Littlefield February 5, 2015 - 9:33 am

Meanwhile, DeBlasio proposes no increase in city funding for the MTA Capital plan.


Says it all.

Bolwerk February 5, 2015 - 11:41 am

Not saying I disagree with your point, but all the same, why should he? If de Blasio weren’t violating his fiduciary responsibility to the city to just unquestionably give the MTA more money, but he’d be coming damn close. He’s not allowed to raise revenue, reallocate resources, or escape numerous mandates the state places on the city. NYC still reports to so-fiscally responsible Albany’s Financial Control Board!

De Blasio is too conservative to do something bold and useful, like push to reallocate billions$ from the crime-creating NYPD to expanding a job opportunity-creating transit system. He’s not so different than the Republikrats in Albany in that sense; they could pass legislation to cut MTA fat here, reallocate it there, and not create a net loss in work.

eo February 5, 2015 - 9:35 am

As Ben said, the reason why this ferry fascination does not die is that it does not require too much money to start, so it is much easier for a politician to simulate that he/she cares about transportation by supporting ideas which they can actually fund relatively easily even if these ideas are useless. The Mayor cannot find the money to build a one stop extension of any line — it is just too expensive, so he does not venture there. Compared to the billion dollars he would need to find to build the missing station on the 7 extension, the $55 million is pocket change that he can find in the city budget and then use his support for ferries to pretend that he is doing something about transportation. He is not willing to spend political capital on real transportation, but desires to make it look as if he cared, so this ferry business is all “smoke and mirrors”.

Jeff February 5, 2015 - 10:12 am

That’s just the pragmatic approach. Spending the least amount of money on the greatest amount of publicity, greatest amount of lobbyist dollars and greatest amount of votes.

Unfortunate reality that we all live in.

threestationsquare February 5, 2015 - 10:31 am

I think even more significantly than the cost issue, a ferry service can be up and running before the next election, which there is no hope of for a subway expansion.

Bolwerk February 5, 2015 - 1:07 pm

A good mayor would push to fix that. He might even win points for trying.

Bronx February 5, 2015 - 7:02 pm

Transportation should be on the agenda. Housing without mass transit expansion is silly. New rapid transit is badly needed in so many areas.

threestationsquare February 7, 2015 - 12:44 pm

New rapid transit is definitely worthwhile in many areas but this shouldn’t get in the way of addressing the desperate need to build more housing, especially along lines with spare capacity. Daily subway ridership into Manhattan (2.2M inbound passengers) is still lower than it was in 1948 (2.4M); there is room.

adirondacker12800 February 7, 2015 - 6:10 pm

2.4 million included more blue collar workers who tend to not work 9-5. And more shoppers who avoid rush hour. In 1948 they were complaining bitterly about the overcrowding. Especially the people who had been using the Second Avenue El. The Third Ave El was still carrying some of them from the Bronx into Manhattan. One the third hand some subway stations were still LIRR stations.

threestationsquare February 8, 2015 - 12:04 am

There are a lot of retail/service industry workers not working 9-5 today, do you know where to find statistics comparing employment by sector then and now?

We did lose the Third Avenue El but we gained the 63rd St tunnel and much better utilisation of the Manhattan Bridge (the south side tracks were peak-only until 1967). Commuter rail ridership is up slightly since 1948, 310k daily inbound today vs 283k then.

Note the numbers I quoted are from the Hub Bound Travel report, only counting trips crossing the rivers or 60th St into the Manhattan CBD.

Bolwerk February 8, 2015 - 10:03 am

I’d love to see stats too, but obviously there was much more industry then and many factories were 24/7. Other than alcohol and food, retail is mostly done by late evening.

I bet 310k is a smaller percentage of people who live in commuter rail territory than it was the 1940s.

lop February 8, 2015 - 2:19 pm


Not Manhattan specific, but national numbers going back to 1939.

threestationsquare February 8, 2015 - 8:12 pm

I haven’t found data back to 1948, but in 1960 (when daily inbound subway ridership was 1.9M) 59.4% of public transit entries to the Manhattan CBD were between 7am and 10am (with 32.2% between 8am and 9am). In 2013, 43.5% are between 7am and 10am (with 19.6% between 8am and 9am). This suggests that rush-hour ridership in 1960 was much higher than today. The trend towards proportionately more off-peak and less peak travel has been pretty steady since at least 1960 and likely started sooner, so rush-hour loads in 1948 were probably higher still.

adirondacker12800 February 8, 2015 - 9:53 pm

Life changed radically between 1948 and 1960. And even more radically since then.

threestationsquare February 9, 2015 - 5:14 am

Well, if the higher rush-hour ridership in 1960 fit then (with no Third Ave El, no 63rd St Tunnel and no Chyrstie St Connection) then there’s room to spare today.

Bronx February 10, 2015 - 2:53 am

I agree. Build dense near rapid transit stations.

I also wish Metro North would become rapid transit like and the fares would go down. Would pull a lot of people off the subway headed for Midtown.

threestationsquare February 7, 2015 - 12:34 pm

I don’t think anywhere in the world gets subway projects from conception to opening in under four years. Even full funding agreement to opening in under four years is pushing it. And that’s assuming no political/legal disputes over routing etc, which most worthwhile lines will necessarily have (unless you bend over backwards to avoid them like Cuomo’s LGA joke). This isn’t a new thing either; Mayor Hylan was long out of office by the time the IND opened. Good transit takes longer than an election cycle and it would take a revolution (in politics, construction or engineering methods) to change that.

Bolwerk February 7, 2015 - 8:06 pm

Good progress on the way to completion is pretty easy in that period. Get a system that smooth, and you’d look good.

Actually, I really can’t see how a discrete project completion or failure helps or hurts much either way. Who has been thrown out of office because of ESA or ARC? Who won an election because of ferry service?

threestationsquare February 8, 2015 - 12:22 am

The decision to make the SI ferry free probably swayed some voters.

An under-construction project causes a lot of disruption and other problems, often felt acutely by a small and easily-organised group (e.g. local store owners), while the people who will benefit are usually more diffuse and may not even be aware of the project (certainly the benefits won’t be very emotionally salient for them until it opens). BART for example was hugely unpopular during is construction (which tore up Market St), and the political backlash killed the then-planned Geary branch; today Market St without BART is unimaginable and the need for a subway on Geary remains severe, but the benefits weren’t reflected politically until after project completion. The consequence is that pushing a large infrastructure project for electoral grandstanding purposes is a losing proposition and politicians don’t do it; the projects that do happen like ESA and SAS have no particular politician taking responsibility.

Bolwerk February 8, 2015 - 9:42 am

Well, San Francisco might be another story, but I have never seen a New York pol* punished or rewarded either way for transportation policies. I can buy they might perceive an electoral threat from a botched project, or even a prolonged well-executed project, but do they ever actually get punished (or rewarded) for it? I can’t think of any documented examples. I’ve seen newspapers howl about boondoggles, but at least that howling is about money more than infrastructure.

Even in a dense/confined city like New York, the proportion of voters who are even effected by an intense transit project is small, and the proportion that is reactionary about it must be smaller still.

* Well, maybe in Buffalo.

Bolwerk February 5, 2015 - 12:53 pm

Even at 10% APR, paying the station down over 30 years would cost about $53M/year if it were bonded out.

That’s more than what Ben cited as the opex for the ferry system (“$20-$30 million in annual operating costs,” which is probably optimistic), but the ferry system probably doesn’t generate as many riders or as much economic activity.

ajedrez February 6, 2015 - 1:03 pm

Meanwhile there’s still neighborhoods hurting from the 2010 service cuts that the $55 million could be used for (that would serve more riders than a ferry), but buses aren’t “sexy” enough to justify spending that money on them.

Clarke February 5, 2015 - 10:39 am

Looks like the old draw-lines-on-a-map-and-call-it-a-day method from Christine Quinn playbook….

marv February 5, 2015 - 10:44 am

is park avenue elevated around grand central terminal – no, it rides above it and aside from the overpasses the should be updated with new materials, the roadway is not a blight.

Build a similar structure on one or both sides of 34th street giving a bus/tram lane and a walking lane with direct access to the nearby buildings. Allow the buildings to have a one story extension below out to the edge of the structure. As few people would be using it as their sole means of transportation, don’t bother charging a fare and save on collection costs and the costs of related infrastructure.

Doing this would then make ferries a much more viable means of transportation.

Do this on 34th Street and then maybe it can be replicated on 57th/42nd/23rd and canal streets.

Maybe even allow the building to build above the structure could provide further funding from air rights.

xxxxxxx xxxxxx
xxxxxxx xxxxxx
xxxxxxx xxxxxx
xxxxxxx xxxxxx
xxxxxxx xxxxxx
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xxxxxxx xxxxxx
xxxxx__ __xxxx
(bldg) (strt) building

Matthew February 5, 2015 - 10:47 am

Ben — One of your best posts highlighting the key reasons why the mayor’s lofty ferry proposal will not work. I’d like to add that there have been numerous proposals that would, however, make a unified ferry system more practical for at least the East River neighborhoods. For instance, the Vision42 proposal from a while back that would usher light rail from river to river by way of 42nd street, that would go a long way towards solving the connectivity issue for midtown commuters — http://www.vision42.org/about/.....ircles.jpg — and while subsidies would still be necessary (as they are for bus and subway service as well), at least this would attract more riders that would, in the long run, bring down costs. Ferries should not cost the same as a subway ride regardless. Similarly, you praised the 34th Street Transitway idea from a while back that would have segregated crosstown busses from commercial traffic along 34th street — http://bkabak.wpengine.com/201.....reat-idea/ — If this were done along strategic crosstown routes in both midtown and downtown, ferries would be much more connective to the greater transit network as well as commuters’ final destinations.

The plan, as announced, doesn’t make sense and reflects poorly on Mayor De Blasio’s acumen as an urban planner. There needs to be a greater focus on comprehensive proposals as opposed to these standalone plans. Expanded and more frequent Select Bus Service would be a far better use of the funds De Blasio has put forth to subsidy his ferry plan. Either way, I’m sure Governor Cuomo will find a way to throw a wrench in Mayor De Blasio’s ferry dream.

AG February 8, 2015 - 8:31 am

“Ferries should not cost the same as a subway ride regardless.” Agree 100 percent… it’s political lunacy.

Also – Vision 42 shouldn’t even factor in… I am in favor of that… Also for 34th Street and 57th… 14th would be nice too…. Houston could work too – especially with the lovely new tree median..

Theorem Ox February 5, 2015 - 12:04 pm

Excellent critique Ben.

Sounds like a case of politician’s definition of the MTA principle – Money Thrown Away (on boondoggles and asking the taxpayers for more money!)

Ed Varga February 5, 2015 - 4:31 pm

Providing shuttle buses or promoting dollar van services from the proposed ferry locations to the nearest subway stop would get waterfront residents to their destinations faster, and with less expense, than an actual ferry. Equip the buses with fans to blow wind in their hair and a PA system with seagull squawking if ferryboat ambiance is desired.

JAzumah February 7, 2015 - 4:16 pm


Chris February 5, 2015 - 4:40 pm

The important question: who the hell drew that map of New York? I mean, geographically speaking. Absolutely atrocious from an accuracy standpoint, and looks awful either way.

Frank February 6, 2015 - 12:52 am

Obvs was drawn to make the ferry routes look much longer and more prominent than they actually are!

Bronx February 5, 2015 - 6:34 pm

Improving bus service wouldn’t significantly reduce travel times for the people traveling to or from the Bronx south of the Bruckner Expressway (between the Bronx and Hutch Rivers) and traveling to or from the Manhattan CBD.

The proposed Soundview Avenue/Clason Point ferry terminal is 3 miles from the nearest rapid transit station. This is the kind of area where a ferry makes sense. 60,000 residents and a major commercial corridor along White Plains Road. The 6 line is already overcrowded during rush hours as are the nearby 2 and 5 trains at Simpson Street. Increased potential ridership and less automoble trips if a connection to Queens is added.

AG February 8, 2015 - 8:38 am

The majority of the residents of Clason Point own cars… Those gated townhouse/condo communities are jam packed with late model cars. I know because I looked to buy there. Ultimately the distance to the train discouraged me… Those persons can afford to pay at least as much as express bus… If I did buy there – I would have – especially as the proposed route would leave me withing walking distance of where I need to go in Manhattan.. Paying the same as a subway is incredibly selfish….. If someone buys a similar property in Dobbs Ferry – they expect to factor in paying the higher cost of a Metro North fare… As insurance costs rise – it will take even higher incomes to live near the water… People should be willing to pay up.
The Rockaways are different because they are further away… If they would stop messing about and re-activate the Rockaway Beach line – that would make more sense than a ferry to Rockaway. It is much more in capital costs but would benefit more people.

Bronx February 10, 2015 - 2:47 am

Not everyone that could use this ferry lives at the point. Most people that live within a mile of the ferry live inside NYCHA property. The neighborhood changes dramatically just a few blocks north of the immediate waterfront. It’s much more dense and socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Although I would personally love to see a ferry one day, i’ll agree that right now it’s not the best plan. Instead, I would like to see the BX5 and BX6 buses combine and create a cross southern Bronx route. I think that would benefit the general population more and the neighborhood is significantly more dense near the Bruckner Expressway.

Bronx February 10, 2015 - 2:51 am

*cross-town southern Bronx SBS route I meant. Fully implemented too. Linking Washington Heights with Throgs neck through the Grand Concourse, Melrose, Longwood, Soundview and Castle Hill. I feel this is one of three badly needed SBS routes along with the BX36 or another mid Bronx route and something along Gun Hill Road perhaps. Fordham Road already has SBS but I would love to see that street get the Fulton Street treatment.

AG February 10, 2015 - 9:29 am

The people who live in the projects in Soundview are not far from the 6… Most would have to take a bus either way (to the 6 or to the ferry)… Charging a subway fare just makes zero sense. Clason Point itself is dominated by homeowners… Many who own nice cars. Likewise the extreme southern end of Castle Hill…

Bruckner Boulevard could probably use light rail – but that’s another story..

Roxie February 6, 2015 - 1:09 am

I sorta-kinda like the idea of the ferry from Soundview; I live close by and there really is a dearth of transit that isn’t anemic bus service.
Honestly though, I’d much rather see some sort of subway, like a Triboro RX sort of thing but using the overcrowded route of the Q44 for the Queens leg of it. That is one corridor that could really, seriously use rail; I’ve been on Q44s that were crowded at 1 in the morning.

Bronx February 6, 2015 - 6:51 am

Which is why the Soundview Avenue/Clason Point ferry line should make a stop in Queens at some point.

marv February 7, 2015 - 8:47 pm

Rather than dreaming of fairies (oh ferries) solve a few issues at once with real bus improvements

maybe run a Q44 clone express (not just a limited) should run down the whitestone expressway (I678) exiting at northern blvd to the Citifield #7 Station then back on to Grand Central or Van Wyck down to Jamaica.(North/Bronx bound service should definitely use the Grand Central and exit at the Tennis Center exit giving a more direct route.)

People along Main Street are upset about a potential bus lane so this would connect the bronx and ~flushing to Jamaica without dealing with the local opposition.

Yes – maybe a bus lane should be/should have been incorporated into the reconstruction of the Kew Gardens interchange. Maybe buses could be allowed to use the shoulders (especially southbound) during rush hours as is done in other places.

Potential options for the route could include:

*exiting and re-entering the highway at Jewel Avenue to allow connections to the Jewel Ave bus,
*using Queens Blvd south of Union Turnpike (Kew Gardens) providing access to borough-hall/the court house and E/F connections.

Dan Kohn February 6, 2015 - 12:56 pm

Ben, I was fortunate enough to ride the ferry every day last year from Battery Park City to Hoboken, with just a couple block walk on each side. I agree that it’s difficult to justify subsidies for this commute, which (among other things) duplicates PATH connectivity. However, I think you’re being overly pessimistic about the connectivity to Manhattan jobs. NY Waterway runs an extensive network of free buses. http://www.nywaterway.com/User.....%20Map.pdf If they expand them to E34th St., the ferry becomes a meaningful alternative for many midtown workers.

The bigger issue is that with subways controlled by the MTA-ignoring Cuomo, De Blasio has very little incentive to try to invest in something he can’t really influence.

In the bigger picture, it is sad to see the transit community fighting over scraps when we should be able to justify funding for both best-in-class subways (funded through the MoveNY plan) and a robust ferry system.

AG February 8, 2015 - 8:40 am

“In the bigger picture, it is sad to see the transit community fighting over scraps when we should be able to justify funding for both best-in-class subways (funded through the MoveNY plan) and a robust ferry system.”

Agreed… Though NYC ferries should be closer – though less than NJ ferries… I’ll forgive Staten Island’s free ferry since they get no transit love.

BrooklynBus February 6, 2015 - 1:27 pm

Ben, you say that no one used the Rockaway Ferry. You may be correct, but let us look at the reasons why. First of all, the ferry needs to save you time. Rockaway, because of its lengthy subway trip was quicker, but people still didn’t use the ferry. That was because it was difficult to get to and the city did nothing to help.

DeBlasio thinks he can just plop down some ferry routes and they will be successful. Just shows how little he knows. New York Waterways works because they provide their own bus service to meet the ferries. Not only won’t the MTA schedule bus service to meet ferries (except for Staten Isand), they won’t extend bus routes to the ferries. So te only way to use the Rockaway ferries was to drive to them. Did the city do anything in that regard either? No. Rockaway residents made their own arrangements to get parking near the docks.

You are correct that ferries are expensive to operate and they are no substitute for subways, but the City and MTA can do much to make them more successful. And why do they all need to go to Manhattan? What’s wrong with reinstituting the Breezy Point / Sheepshead Bay ferry discontinued around 1960? That is a short run and inexpensive to operate. If buses connected with the ferry in Rockaway, passengers could get the B and Q at Sheepshead Bay Station. Also, it would cut commutes between Brooklyn and the Rockaways by supplementing the Q35 with requires more than one fare for many since three or four buses are required from most of Brooklyn to access most of Rockaway. The only reason I coud think this might not fly because NIMBYs in Sheepshead Bay woudn’t want outsiders to come into their area and make the trains more crowded.

Bolwerk February 6, 2015 - 2:34 pm

It’s incredibly hard to overcome the disadvantages of a transit ride that starts from the position of requiring three seats under any circumstances.

lop February 6, 2015 - 3:31 pm

2013 Ridership peak was in August for Rockaway ferry, ~1300 per day, 2013-2014 winter was 550-750 per day. I don’t know where to find ridership numbers after that, nymtc hasn’t posted regional travel patterns since Q1 2014.

Which bus did you want extended? The 22 and 53 run within a block of the ferry? The train isn’t far away. Did you want the 35 extended? Who’s going to ride the bus from Brooklyn to rockaway to get a ferry to Manhattan? It’s a block away from the 22 in rockaway.

Breezy point and roxbury are private gated communities that don’t want outsiders to be let in. You think they’d agree to a city bus running through their neighborhoods to bring people to a ferry? Or a ferry bringing rockaway beach tourists into their enclave in the summer? If they just want a ferry for their private community they should pay for it themselves.

sonicboy678 February 8, 2015 - 4:34 pm

You do realize that Sheepshead Bay isn’t a gated community, right? Your argument would make sense if he was talking about Sea Gate, but he wasn’t.

lop February 8, 2015 - 6:40 pm

The gated community is the Rockaway end of his proposed route. Although looking at a map there’s a road just before the gate to a dock, still not sure the locals wouldn’t fight use of it as a ferry landing.

Andrew February 8, 2015 - 11:54 pm

Everything lop says is correct. (Breezy Point doesn’t even have public bus service – it only has the “Blue Goose” shuttle bus – and you think there’s a market for a ferry to Sheepshead Bay?)

In addition, I could have sworn that, back in October, you were concerned about supposed overcrowding on the Brighton line. Now you’ve changed your mind and want to attract more ridership to the line?

Wanderer February 6, 2015 - 1:29 pm

Elected officials–politicians–tend to go ga ga over transportation technology, especially if it’s considered “cool.” Most of them don’t think about what improvements would do the greatest good for the greatest number–or for the greatest geographic area. In many cities they go ga ga over streetcars, but it sounds like ferries are the Cool mode of political choice. Except in the unique case of the mass movement on the Staten Island ferry, ferries are quite expensive to run and maintain.

It’s not to say that ferries never work (streetcars work in a very limited number of cases), but that if you start with the service needs/gaps, you’re likely to wind up supporting bus and/or subway solutions.

Bolwerk February 6, 2015 - 2:27 pm

Somehow I doubt what New York pols go gaga over, BRT, is considered “cool.” The people who advocate it are probably in general the last people who would use it.

Ferries seem more about rewarding developments. Ironically, those waterfront neighborhoods would probably be one of the better places for streetcars, as in slower circulators that mainly feed nearby subway routes. Well, except for the whole flooding/climate change detail, which makes them questionable under and circumstances.

Kevin P. February 7, 2015 - 12:03 am

The plan was the subject of a segment on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show yesterday. Guests Gridlock Sam and Roland Lewis of the Metropolitan Water Alliance defended expanded ferry service to the hilt, claiming that riders would use Citi Bike and new “BRT” (actually SBS) routes to reach the ferries. They also mentioned it would be a boon for residents of the Queensbridge projects, but that’s one of a small fraction of examples of low-income pockets near the proposed waterfront docks. I felt the discussion was far too one-sided and someone like Ben should have been there to provide some balance and (IMHO) a voice of reason.


Kevin P. February 7, 2015 - 12:16 am

Correction: I believe they were referring to the Astoria and/or Ravenswood Houses, which are further from the subway than Queensbridge.

John Doe February 23, 2015 - 7:45 pm

Ferries today are different than other forms of public transportation. People will pay extra for them.

1. Ferries have free wi-fi so you can get work done. Not so on subways.

2. Ferries have cafes so you can eat meals. Not so on subways.

3. Ferries have decks that you can walk around on while you ride so you can stretch your legs. Not so on subways.

4. Ferries have water views and dolphin and seagull sightings. Not so on subways.

5. Ferries are quiet and soothing. Not so on subways.

I don’t care if ferries take twice as long to get there. When the quality of the ride is so much different, the time and the price have to be considered differently as well. A ferry isn’t just a commute; it’s an experience.


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