LIRR ferries run nearly empty

LIRR commuter Joan Hernandez got a private ferry ride across the East River from Long Island City to East 34th Street Monday morning. And it was not the first time.

"It's been me, consistently, and then there has been one or two people occasionally other than me," Hernandez said.

The evening rush is equally quiet. The 3:40 p.m. and 4:11 p.m. boats left 34th Street without a single passenger Monday afternoon.

"Going back I take the 5 o'clock back," Hernandez said. "There's been myself and one other person consistently and then maybe one or two other people but I've never seen more than five."

The often-empty boats, one all the way from Plymouth, Massachusetts, have been chartered by the MTA exclusively as an alternative option during the so-called Summer of Hell. Because of track work at Penn Station, the Long Island Rail Road has diverted some of its trains to Hunterspoint in Queens where it is offering free shuttle bus service to the ferry.

But hardly anyone is taking advantage of it, which MTA board members acknowledged at a Monday MTA board meeting.

"I saw the ridership at Hunterspoint and the supervisors were pleading with the people 'Here's a bus ride to a nice ferry, it's only four minutes to Manhattan,' but very few people were really interested," MTA board member Randy Glucksman said.

LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said most Hunterspoint commuters prefer to transfer to the 7 subway line.

It all begs the questions: why, after two weeks is the MTA still running the near-empty boats back and forth, and at what cost?

In response to our questions, MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan said in a statement: "We are monitoring ridership levels and are prepared to make adjustments." Donovan would not tell us how much the service costs.

Meanwhile, while the empty boats shuttle back and forth between Midtown and Long Island City, NYC Ferry boats, which also run to LIC, are often packed to the gills and have to turn passengers away.

As of now, the LIRR's contingency plan, including the ferries, runs through late August.