Happy Ferryversary! Rockaway Boat Hits One-Year Mark

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One year in and the boat is still afloat. Happy first anniversary to the Rockaway ferry!

On May 1, 2017, the boats of the new citywide ferry service launched on their maiden voyages on the Rockaway and East River routes. For those in Rockaway, having the return of the ferry was much welcomed. The ferry has had its ebbs and flows over the past year but it seems the consensus is that Rockaway loves the commute by boat, as does much of the city.

The launch of the Rockaway ferry route, which goes to and from Rockaway, making a stop at Sunset Park, Brooklyn and ending at Pier 11 near Wall Street, saw 1,828 riders on day one. A year later, representatives from NYC Ferry tell us the Rockaway route has seen approximately 640,400 riders in its first year of service.

Locals got a taste of ferry life following Hurricane Sandy, after the A train was damaged and a transportation alternative was a necessity. However, after several extensions, the service operated by Seastreak came to an end. However, in 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to bring it back as part of a citywide ferry service system. And on May 1, 2017, Rockaway saw that promise kept when the first boat, now operated by Hornblower, left the dock at Beach 108th at 5:30 a.m.

The service, at just $2.75 per ride, introduced brand new 149-passenger vessels complete with a bathroom, bike racks, indoor and outdoor seating, outlets to keep those devices charged for the ride, and a snack bar serving unique treats, coffee, and beer and wine.

In its first year of service, the city has seen the launch of four ferry routes, with East River and Rockaway being the first, the South Brooklyn route launching in June 2017 and the Astoria route being added in August 2017.

The first year has been a wild ride, literally, but it seems that learning from the not-so-great aspects will open the service up to an even brighter future. One of the biggest challenges was seen during the Rockaway ferry’s first summer season. The city had been warned about large summer crowds, but only boats with a capacity of 149-people were added to system. After seeing several examples of people being left behind at docks and having to charter boats from other companies to pick up the slack, the phrase, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” became apparent.

The stats also supported that phrase. By July 26, between the East River, South Brooklyn and Rockaway routes, the service hit the milestone of serving one million riders. With all four routes, in its first year, NYC Ferry served more than three million riders, surpassing initial projections by 34 percent or nearly 800,000 riders.

It seems the city is aiming to right that wrong of insufficient capacity going forward. After the summer, NYC Ferry announced that it will be adding six larger vessels to its fleet that will be able to hold up to 349 passengers. The first three of these boats are expected to arrive this summer, so the summer commute may be smoother for 2018.

Some other things have not gone so smoothly. After the summer battle was over, the Rockaway ferry seemed to have a bad stroke of luck, or poor navigation come into play. In November 2017, a ferry that just departed from Pier 11, got stuck on some old pilings near the pier and the more than 100 passengers had to be transported back to the dock and placed on another vessel. Then, just a month later, a city-bound Rockaway ferry veered off course and found itself stranded on a sandbar between Breezy Point and Coney Island. The 27 passengers on board spent several hours in the cold, awaiting rescue, but they were eventually transported by smaller boats and taken back to land. The passengers, in both instances, were compensated with ferry passes and other goodies for their troubles.

Hopefully, in the year to come, there will be less, and by less, we mean none of these incidents, but hey, at least the ferry didn’t hit an iceberg. In the peak of winter, the ferry service was introduced to another obstacle as Jamaica Bay started to freeze over, but NYC Ferry did what it could to meet the challenge. On days where conditions seemed impossible, the service was suspended for everyone’s safety, but many attempts were also made by tugboats that were hired to clear the ice so that the service could continue on some chilly winter days.

Despite some hiccups, NYC Ferry has proven to be a team player. It’s more than just a welcome commute. The company is also very involved in the neighborhoods it serves, by supporting and volunteering during local events. NYC Ferry has been involved in cleanups and other events held by the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, sponsored the food fest, Taste of Rockaway, and has even sponsored the Rockaway Times Photo contest.

NYC Ferry has also been responding to feedback. After complaints about not enough boats during the evening commute home, the service changed its spring 2018 schedule to add two more trips from Pier 11 to Rockaway, a 5:45 p.m. and a 7:45 p.m. boat, so boats are now running more frequently in the evening. There are also rumors swirling that the ferry may change the upcoming summer schedule to meet the demands of beachgoers and commuters alike.  “Our new fleet will include larger vessels and hopefully our summer schedule will help alleviate capacity issues as well,” the NYC Ferry Twitter account said on Wednesday, May 2.

This summer, more of the city will be connected by boat when the Lower East Side route, stopping at Long Island City, East 34th Street, Stuyvesant Cove, Corlears Hook, and Wall Street/Pier 11, and the Soundview route, stopping at Soundview in the Bronx, East 90th Street, East 34th Street, and Wall Street/Pier 11, launch this summer. Together, the six routes are expected to serve approximately 1.5M riders this summer alone.

Besides the evidence from ridership numbers, the ferry has proven to be a pleasurable experience. In a survey conducted by the NYCEDC in August 2017, 93 percent of riders gave NYC Ferry a customer satisfaction rating of seven or higher on a ten-point scale, with 66 percent giving the highest possible score.

Of course, there’s always room for improvement, but we’re all grateful to have the ferry back in town and we look forward to what’s in store for the next year, and hopefully, many, many more years to come.

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