By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The East River ferry service connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan is such a success, it should be expanded. That was the major thrust of a press conference Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had on Dec. 20, as they announced that the city is seeking a ferry service operator willing to set up a five-year plan.
Bloomberg, Quinn, and Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, announced that a Request for Proposals (RFP) was being issued to find a ferry operator.
Since its launch in June of 2011, the East River ferry has carried more than 1.6 million passengers, already surpassing the initial projections of approximately 1.3 million passengers for the entirety of the three-year pilot program, according to Pinsky. The initial three-year pilot service operated by BillyBey Ferry Company is contracted through June of 2014.
The Request for Proposals seeks an operator who can continue and maintain the current level of service for at least five years after the pilot period has ended, Bloomberg said. Respondents to the RFP will be evaluated on the extent to which they can improve the existing service, the mayor said. In addition, respondents will have the opportunity to propose expansion of service, such as increased operating hours and new landing locations. The responses are due March 1.
For Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), the news that the Bloomberg Administration is seeking to expand the ferry service was music to his ears.
Gentile said he has an idea for the perfect way to expand the service – make Bay Ridge’s 69th Street pier a stop on the ferry.
Under the current service contract, the ferries currently make stops in Red Hook, Brooklyn Heights, and Greenpoint.
“I congratulate my colleagues for seeing the need to reconnect Manhattan to southwest Brooklyn via the water and I welcome them to the fight. I have been banging the drum to extend East River Ferry Service to connect Manhattan to Bay Ridge for almost a decade now and I’m excited to have them on board,” Gentile said.
“I look forward to sitting down with my colleagues to help find a way to revive these plans and reignite this spark. The time has come – it is much-needed and long overdue,” Gentile said.
At the press conference, the mayor and the other officials lauded the ferry service.
“Ferry service along the East River continues to be incredibly popular, both for commuters and weekend travelers.. We now have the opportunity to build upon this success and sustain this essential part of our transportation vision well into the future. Expanding transportation options along the waterfront will better serve communities and spur new housing and economic development,” Bloomberg said.
“After hurricane Sandy hit New York City, the East River Ferry was one of the first forms of mass transportation back up-and-running. This ferry has not only proved to be a reliable and efficient form of transportation in a time of crisis, but New Yorkers also really love taking it the rest of the year. This new RFP exemplifies the City’s commitment to the east river ferry for the long term, and I look forward to working with the administration and EDC to ensure the selected respondent continues the ferry we’ve grown to love,” Quinn said.
East River ferry service continues to grow in popularity, according to officials, who said summer ridership increasing by nearly 40 percent from the first year to the second. This growth occurred across all sectors of ferry riders, including weekday and weekend riders, and across all landing sites. Overall, average monthly ridership of the East River Ferry is in excess of 90,000 passenger trips, officials said.
"The East River Ferry has quickly become an integral piece of the city’s transportation network, far surpassing ridership projections for its initial three-year pilot service. This was especially true in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” Pinsky said.
Borough President Marty Markowitz said he enthusiastically supports the move. “In just a year and a half, the wildly popular East River Ferry has become an indispensable option for commuting Brooklynites and sightseers, proving the viability of ferry service as a way for New Yorkers to get to and from work, and as an attraction bringing economic development and tourism to our bustling waterfront,” he said.