New York City scrambles to improve ferry service

The city is scrambling to improve service on the new citywide NYC Ferry that was launched with great fanfare in May. Many passengers say service in the first few months has been anything but smooth.

"There's been 3 times I haven't gotten on. I have had to wait about an hour, an hour and a half," said Meaghan Clinton, who rides the new Rockaway route to get home from work on Wall Street every day.

The Rockaway boat usually departs Wall Street just once an hour, and Clinton and other rush hour riders said they have to leave work early to get on line for a spot, or risk having to wait an hour or more until the next boat.

"It happened to me a dozen times or more," said Joe Graham, who lives in the Rockaways. "I can't get on because it's too full, and I end up waiting another hour."

Tempers often flare, said riders.

"There have been fights on the boats. There have been people cutting and people have been getting pretty irate," said passenger Eric Sontag.

Higher-than-expected demand has also been an issue for beachgoers who often wait hours on hot days.

On the East River line, where fares dropped from $4 to $2.75 when NYC Ferry took over, crowding has also been a problem at times.

"They're delayed. The other day, I had two boats go by- they were full, I couldn’t get on," said Michael Demler, who boards at Long Island City for 34th street.

The City's Economic Development Corporation, which runs the ferry, is adding more service and bigger boats.

"This is a new system," said Anthony Hogrebe, senior vice president for public affairs at EDC. "We continue to find ways to add service and add capacity."

The EDC has supplemented the sleek new, smaller boats they ordered by chartering older, bigger vessels and has added extra boats to pick up some of the crowds that get left behind.

"Everytime we add a boat or a trip, that's an added cost to taxpayers," Hogrebe explained. "We're continuing to try to find a system that's balanced between needing to serve as many people as possible but also wanting to be responsible with taxpayer money."

EDC has also ordered three larger boats which hold 250 passengers. They should be operating by next year, Hogrebe said.

Meanwhile, NYC Ferry just launched real-time delay updates through its app in hopes of improving communication with customers.

Still, regular riders said the system is still far from perfect.

"For this to be a sustainable service, people need to be able to rely on this at most times and right now it still kind of feels like hit or miss," said regular Rockaway route rider Eric Sontag.

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