The first of the NYC Ferry’s new, larger boats will set sail in the next two weeks, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
The boat is one of six 350-capacity vessels coming into service, part of the city’s response to meet a much higher demand than it initially expected. It was ordered, along with two others, at a cost of roughly $7.5 million.
“We’re trying to make sure that when we do have high demand, like people trying to get out to the beach or trying to go to Governors Island or other places throughout the NYC Ferry system, that we’re able to quickly meet that demand,” said James Wong, executive director for NYC Ferry at the EDC. “So that means having a vessel like this.”
The vessel, named by city students as “Ocean Queen Rockstar,” is more than double the capacity of the current NYC Ferry boats, which can accommodate 150 passengers, though it visually looks fairly similar to its smaller ilk. The average ferry rider might not notice the difference from the outside but the interior has changed; tables have been removed and the hard plastic seats have been replaced with a faux leather material.
Also, the new boats feature two passenger staircases on both the bow and stern of the boat.
“One of the things we wanted to emphasize was the ability to improve our boarding time and so now we have an option to board from the front, as well,” said Wong. “We’re going to test it out operationally to see how it works and get people coming up and down from the front stairs because there’s more space on this vessel to do it.”
Wong said the bigger boats could be used on any route, and NYC Ferry will decide where to run the boat based on demand on a given day.
Early on, the city struggled to serve high demand, like the Rockaway route during the summer, where long lines formed and commuters had to be turned away from at-capacity boats. To accomodate the larger-than-anticipated crowds, Hornblower, the operators of NYC Ferry, had adjusted schedules to reduce landing traffic and has had to charter two to three larger boats each day.
Critics say the city is pumping too much money into a niche service that could never come close to matching the ridership of the city’s subways and buses. NYC Ferry is on the verge of serving five million passengers since it first launched last May. The subways serve more than five million people each day, while buses carry another two million.
Last May, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he believes NYC Ferry could serve as many as 9 million riders annually by 2023. He outlined that the city would pump an additional $300 million into the NYC Ferry service — nearly twice as much taxpayer money as originally planned — to pay for the larger fleet, a second home port and other infrastructure upgrades.
Ocean Queen Rockstar arrived in New York Harbor earlier this week. It’s the 17th boat in the NYF Ferry fleet, with another five more on the way.
Later this summer, the city expects to launch two new NYC Ferry routes that will connect both Long Island City, Queens, and Soundview, in the Bronx, to Manhattan.