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Bill de Blasio teases new borough ferry service for 2017

Mayor Bill de Blasio, with other city officials

Mayor Bill de Blasio, with other city officials and representatives from Hornblower Cruises & Events, rings a bell to announce the company's new citywide ferry service set for a summer 2017 launch. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

New York City has hired a San Francisco-based company to operate a borough-to-borough ferry service, with the first new boat expected on the water in the summer of 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

Southern Brooklyn and Rockaway and Astoria in Queens will be the first neighborhoods served under de Blasio’s plan. Routes for Soundview in the Bronx and Manhattan’s Lower East Side are expected the following year.

“People are gonna like it. They’re going to demand it. It’s gonna be a part of this city for decades to come,” de Blasio said at the South Street Seaport, as a yellow boat from New York Water Taxi, a losing bidder for the contract, floated nearby in the East River.

The city awarded the contract to Hornblower Cruises & Events, the San Francisco-based firm, instead of New York Water Taxi, which runs about 1.5 million boat trips a year to a wide range of harbor destinations.

Officials with the Manhattan-based ferry, known for its yellow checkered boats, have said that Wednesday’s announcement means they will go out of business later this year.

The Hornblower ferries will reach about 500,000 New Yorkers and 21 neighborhoods, with an estimated 4.6 million annual trips along six routes. Many of those communities have few if any reasonably priced mass transit options. Wi-Fi and beverages will be available on board, and the service will be accessible to people with disabilities.

Although the fare would be tied to the regular cost of riding a city subway or bus — currently $2.75 — passengers won’t be able to transfer free between the ferry and those modes of transportation, de Blasio said. Free transfers is the goal, he said, but talks between the city and the governor-controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority have not started.

For now, the ferry service will use a payment separate from the MetroCard or successor payment methods. The cost to the city for the six-year contract is about $30 million annually, though it could be defrayed by sponsorships, in addition to with about $10 million for startup costs.

Brooklyn’s Coney Island and Staten Island’s Stapleton section are being eyed for expansion.

Hornblower also offers dining cruises, yachts and other ferries in several cities on the West Coast.

New York Water Taxi, currently ferries passengers to harbor destinations such as Ikea in Brooklyn’s Red Hook, and other locations. The company said the threatened shut down would be in October.

“The city is creating a government-subsidized monopoly that will force us out of business, stifle competition and have tremendous leverage against the City in any future negotiations,” Peter Ebright, the company’s executive vice president, said in a statement after de Blasio’s ceremony.

Travel times for new ferry service expected to begin in the summer of 2017:

Rockaway (Queens) to Wall Street (Manhattan): About 1 hour

Astoria (Queens) to East 34th Street: About 22 minutes

Astoria to Wall Street: About 38 minutes

Soundview (Bronx) to Wall Street: About 43 minutes

Bay Ridge (Brooklyn) to Wall Street: About 48 minutes

Source: The New York City Mayor’s office

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