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NYC Ferry will hire charter boats to accommodate growing crowds

We’re gonna need bigger boats

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio Rides New Citywide NYC Ferry Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It’s only been six weeks since its ahead-of-schedule debut, but the NYC Ferry’s new citywide service is already so popular the city has had to charter extra boats to keep up with demand.

While the city had anticipated ridership might be up in the summer, the New York Times reports that they’d “underestimated just how much demand would outstrip supply.” To pick up the seasonal slack, the city has chartered two additional 400-person ferries for the summer, “at a cost of $485,000, or $60,000 per weekend.”

Expecting the surge to continue, the city also changed their current order with Hornblower, the contractor operating the service. Initially, they’d called for 20 boats, each capable of ferrying 149 passengers; now, they’re asking that three of those 20 be larger, with bigger engines and a carrying capacity of 250, though the supersize vessels won’t be ready until next year.

Crowding on the ferries has been a problem since the get-go. “Even before Memorial Day weekend, when crowds overwhelmed the service … it was clear to officials that the fleet of vessels may not be able to keep up with demand,” the Times notes, and not just on weekends. Some regular riders say even weekday commutes involve overcrowding and long waits, a problem that might be increased by the city’s ongoing subway troubles.

So the crunch a result of poor planning? City Hall doesn’t think so. “We’re still accumulating the data at this stage,” Wiley Norvell, a City Hall spokesman, told the Times. “We’re not the subway. We don’t have 70 years of detailed ridership telling us how many trains to run after a Yankee game.” He also said the ferries were never intended to replace the trains.

But some industry insiders say the problems the service is facing now were entirely predictable. In a Crain’s op-ed last year, Tom Fox, a veteran ferry operator who once ran the New York Water Taxi, wrote that “the new boats being built are too small to service the East River on summer weekends, when the current operator uses 400-passenger ferries that are filled to capacity.” (He was commenting on the East River Ferry service that preceded NYC Ferry, the Times notes, though the point stands.)

“It’s very sad that the planning wasn’t done properly in the first place by professionals,” he told the paper. “You don’t plan for these things in the middle of peak season.”

Indeed, even adding charters during peak season has proved somewhat problematic: the bigger charter boats won’t be available to the city for three summer weekends — including Labor Day—because they’re already booked elsewhere. Instead, the city will use regular boats “in greater numbers,” and hope for rain.