The South Bronx to Wall Street in under 45 minutes with no transfers was an unimaginable commute for Bronx residents just 18 months ago. Today, ask any commuter boarding an NYC Ferry at the Soundview Ferry Terminal: the service has been a transportation game changer for residents of the South Bronx and surrounding communities.
Ferries are one of the world’s most resilient transit modes; global waterfront cities have long put boats to use to link their waterfront communities. Before NYC Ferry hit the waterways, the last time The Bronx, a peninsula, enjoyed ferry service was in the 1930s. Bronx citizens may have had to wait a long time to get back on a boat, but it was worth it. The Soundview route has exceeded initial ridership projections since its launch in summer 2018 and cut transit commute times in half.
As the Soundview route celebrated its one‐year anniversary last summer, it carried more than 670,000 riders, 63 percent more than expected. NYC Ferry continues to break ridership records with 3.1 million rides over the summer of 2019, and a new single‐day record of 49,333 rides.
Now, a new chapter in Bronx ferry service is in the works. Next year, the NYC Ferry Soundview route will expand into Throggs Neck, to a stop at Ferry Point Park.
Recent years have seen increased residential, recreational, and commercial development along the waterfront. The expansion of the Soundview ferry service will accommodate areas on the waterfront that are not as well served by the City’s subway system.
The new leg to Ferry Point Park also helps highlight fantastic Bronx waterfront destinations. While commuters comprise the majority of ferry riders on the Soundview route, New Yorkers and visitors can now easily access Clason Point Park, Soundview Park, and Pugsley Creek Park, and starting next year, the beautiful Ferry Point Park. These NYC Parks destinations offer open space, great views, and tranquility; not to mention visitors bringing economic vibrancy to The Bronx.
To support this extraordinary growth of NYC Ferry in The Bronx, City agencies need to be prepared with supportive planning and infrastructure to ensure that commuters have a positive transit experience. Given ridership projections, the New York City Economic Development Corporation should anticipate bringing vessels of greater capacity into the system. Instances of riders not being able to get on at various stops due to overcrowding have been reported, especially in the summer. We should not leave riders stranded or waiting long periods for the next boat.
Here’s another idea: Our ferry landings should serve not only as hubs for transportation, but hubs for economic development. Let’s give local small businesses an opportunity to serve as vendors offering local food or other items at ferry landings.
The next round of ferry landings coming online should be part of a longer strategy of creating game-changing commutes for New Yorkers on the water. This should include additional stops serving The Bronx, as well as a shuttle from the Bronx directly to La Guardia Airport and the Astoria ferry line. Also, we must find a way to allow transfers between ferry service and local bus and train MTA service. These measures would dramatically improve the overall route choices for all residents and truly move us away from the car culture that is so detrimental to our environment.
We believe improvements and adjustments like these will ensure the continuing success of NYC Ferry, and improve the well-being of people all around our great city.
Marcos A. Crespo is New York State Assembly Member. Karen Imas is the senior director of programs at the Waterfront Alliance.