East River Ferry: A pleasant ride, if you’re on vacation

The East River Ferry, jointly operated by BillyBey Ferry Company and NY Waterway, seeks to provide a more relaxing commute than traveling by subway. Photo by Evelyn Cheng

Nothing is as good as it sounds when you have to wait.

I stood with a crowd of about 30, some with bicycles and babies in strollers, under the hot noonday sun last week as we waited for the free ferry in Long Island City.

The new East River Ferry, launched June 13, runs from East 34th Street in Manhattan to Pier 11 at Wall Street with stops in Long Island City and Brooklyn. For two weeks until June 24, the ferry is operating for free, which means that more than twice the number of usual customers want to ride it — 6,000 passengers rode the first day.

“We’re maxing out,” BillyBey Ferry Operations Manager Jonathan Figueroa repeated again and again. His announcement that the 1:04 p.m. ferry was delayed irritated some waiting passengers.

“Screw lunch break,” a biker huffed as he walked his bike off the dock. Another biker had already left before him.

But everyone else, curious locals and parents bringing their children to the office or for a ride, waited calmly for the next boat.

In the meantime, Vincent Tamuzza, director of information systems at NY Waterway, showed me the prototype for a new smartphone application he had helped develop for the East River Ferry. Users will be able to purchase and display tickets right on their smartphone, although paper tickets will still be available from ticket machines and on-board ticket sellers. At $4 each way, the ferry will cost nearly twice a ride on the subway or bus.

But Tamuzza is confident the ferry will attract riders.

“We think it’s a more relaxing way to go to work,” he said, “a couple days a week or maybe on their way home.”

Weekend tourists might also bring in business, he said.

A southbound ferry pulled up, but with only 149 seats on board the deckhands would only let a few passengers on. No groups, only a single traveler, they said — which was my situation exactly.

On board, the ferry was far from cramped. Most people preferred standing outside on the deck, leaving many empty seats in the first- and second-floor cabins. But even on deck I had more room to walk around than on ferries to the Statue of Liberty.

The plush, blue seats by large windows were certainly more relaxing than hard subway benches. A father and son shared lunch on a narrow table in the second floor cabin. On the deck, passengers snapped photos and took in the broad Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines.

The ride was relatively smooth, with only one riff when the ferry met some rough water. Children screamed excitedly as their parents grabbed their hands and laughed.

It was a pleasurable ride.

“Just having fun on the boat, just something new in the area, that’s it,” ferry passenger Jim Zhen said.

It was retired Woodside resident Eileen Fitzgerald’s second ride on the ferry.

“Sure, I used to work down in the Wall Street area and I’d walk over to the ferry,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s so much more pleasurable taking the ferry. I feel like I’m on vacation.”

A free ride in New York City waters can certainly make a vacation, but probably not an ideal commute for time-crunched stock traders living far from the Brooklyn shore. My ride from Long Island City to Wall Street lasted at least 40 minutes, not including the time I spent finding my way from the Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue subway stop and waiting at the pier.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority declined to comment on the city-funded ferry, but the woman at the subway booth courteously directed me toward the ferry. Although her directions were clear, I still had trouble navigating the angular Long Island City streets.

When the East River Ferry charges normal fees and follows schedules June 25, the same ride should only take 25 minutes. But as I left the ferry at Pier 11, a block-long line was waiting to board. And for the five minutes I stayed around, no one was allowed on.

I went underground and took the No. 3 train 10 minutes up to Herald Square.

Reach reporter Evelyn Cheng by phone at 718-260-4524.

More from Around New York