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NYC Ferry’s opening day provokes questions of practicality

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The ferry has been viewed as a fix for an overburdened public transit system, but a ferry carries fewer riders than a single subway car

NYC Ferry made its inaugural ride from the Rockaways to lower Manhattan yesterday, following months of hype about the new commuting option for out-east Brooklynites and the subsumption of the East River Ferry into the new system. But just hours after the first ferry departed from Beach 108th Street at 5:30 a.m., complaints about service delays started rolling in. “There are 30 irate people at Greenpoint,” one aspiring ferry rider tweeted out at 10:39 a.m. “We were told to walk to the L. At least get us a bus.”

The snafu was caused by a loose oil temperature sensor that went off, prompting one of the three boats’ removal around 9 a.m., an EDC rep told DNAinfo. It was an inconvenient hiccup during the ferry’s most high-profile day to date. Opening day and rush hour crowds were left in the lurch until a replacement boat arrived. Service was back to normal by 1 p.m.

NYC Ferry’s first day served as a reminder, for some, that the ferry system is an imperfect fix to a much larger problem. “The idea advanced by James Patchett, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, that these ferries could function as a substitute for the subway is ludicrous,” writes Slate staff writer Henry Grabar.

The ferry has been viewed as a fix for an overburdened public transit system, but Grabar notes that each ferry only carries 150 people—less than one subway car, which holds about 200. It takes several ferries to carry the same amount of commuters as one subway train.

But there’s only so much that the city’s government can do about the ailing subway system—the state controls the MTA, not the city. And so, as Grabar writes, “the mayor funnels his transit ambitions into toys like ferries and streetcars”—which, while attention-getting and nifty for the few who will ride them, are not especially helpful toward alleviating the city’s transit woes.

To Grabar’s point, De Blasio’s ferry is a Band-Aid on an ailing public transit system. “The truth is that the construction of the subways drove New York’s ferries out of business a century ago,” he writes. “That they have returned is a sign of a city that sees transportation as a tool to advance interests in politics and real estate—not to help people get around.”