NYC Ferry Sees Record Ridership in First Quarter

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NYC Ferry, the city’s public ferry system, saw just over 1 million passengers in the first quarter of 2023, the highest number of riders ever for any first-quarter period since service began in 2017, AM New York first reported. 

The number of passengers outpaced the pre-pandemic total of 830,474 riders seen in the first quarter of 2020 and came despite last year’s price increase for a single ticket from $2.75 to $4.

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“We did have a price change, but we’re still seeing that people are excited about NYC Ferry,” James Wong, executive director of NYC Ferry, said. “[Riders] are continuing to discover it as a mode for not only transportation to work in school and things like that, but also for leisure.” 

On average, NYC Ferry saw 11,531 passengers per day on weekdays and 9,980 travelers per day on weekends in the first quarter, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which oversees the ferry system.

The East River route, which travels between Long Island City, North Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, was the most popular and accounted for 37 percent of all trips, according to the EDC. 

The Astoria line saw 24 percent of riders, while the route connecting Bronx to Manhattan Soundview had 13 percent of all passengers in the first quarter of the year, the EDC found.

While the system has seen an increase in ridership, it has been criticized for how much the city spends to subsidize the rides for mainly white and wealthier residents.

A report from New York City Comptroller Brad Lander claimed the EDC underreported how much it subsidized riders by a whopping $224 million, with city taxpayers shelling out $12.88 per ride in 2021. That mostly benefited riders who pull in between $100,000 and $149,000 per year in 2021, according to NYC Ferry.

But the cost to taxpayers has dropped as fare prices increased, hitting $9.95 in the 2022 fiscal year, and will fall further into 2023, said Wong. 

“We’ve definitely seen increases in revenue, which is really great for us because we really want to drive the cost of NYC Ferry down,” Wong said. “We want to make sure it’s financially responsible in the way that we drive forward.”

Even with the price hike, Wong said NYC Ferry has aimed to make the service more available for “everyone” and has given discounted tickets of $1.35 per ride to low-income New Yorkers, seniors, students and people with disabilities. The EDC also started a pilot program last week to give reduced fares to students from the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island.

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com.