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NYC Ferry System Puts Wind In The Sails Of Outer Borough Developers

A NYC Ferry Vessel

It might be fall, but the public transit woes felt during New York City’s “Summer of Hell” have continued. As the city attempts to fix a subway system plagued by overcrowding, delays and an aging signal system, outer borough commuters are left with migraine-inducing travel. 

Following the introduction of the NYC Ferry in May, commuters have exchanged subway lines and bus routes for boat rides. The new transit option has not only reduced commute times, but has also opened up formerly far-flung neighborhoods to a development boom. 

“The NYC Ferry System is not only easing the minds of potential residents, it’s also definitely encouraging developers to keep building,” GFI Realty Services Research Analyst Justin Fitzsimmons said. 

The NYC Ferry system operates four routes: Astoria, East River, Rockaway and South Brooklyn. Routes that will service the Lower East Side, from Long Island City to Wall Street, and Soundview in the Bronx to Wall Street, are expected to launch next summer. The boats provide quick trips from neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens to Lower Manhattan, as well as easier interborough travel. Riders can go from Long Island City in Queens to Sunset Park in Brooklyn in one trip, rather than having to pass through Manhattan. 

Hunters Point Park pier in Long Island City, Queens

The ferry service hit the 1 million rider mark in July, and has been far more popular than anticipated. The service experienced such high demand in its first few weeks of operation that passengers faced delays, long lines and overcrowding. As more routes have been added, the wait time for commuters to board the boats has been reduced.

With approximately 15,000 daily passengers, the NYC Ferry has proven to be a successful public transit solution. With fares at $2.75 per trip, a ferry ride is comparable in price to a trip on the subway. 

Real estate close to the ferry routes has consequently seen rent growth. An analysis of rental inventory along the DUMBO, North and South Williamsburg ferry stops, based on the existing East River Ferry, found that rentals near the ferry route underwent an average of a $500 per month premium compared to those one mile away, Fitzsimmons said. The ferry service provides access to the new mixed-use campus in Dumbo Heights and the nearby Empire Stores, strengthening DUMBO’s position as a tech hub.

The East River Ferry is a case study for other neighborhoods that have long lacked access to multiple transit options, the availability of which fuels development

“We feel that residential prices will continue to rise in areas where there's service being added, and will likely have a ripple effect in these neighborhoods, bringing in new residential and commercial development,” Fitzsimmons said. 

Neighborhoods in Brooklyn have not only seen increased residential development, but also new commercial projects. The ferry service makes the outer boroughs more viable options for offices. Commercial and industrial developments along the Sunset Park waterfront like Industry City, Liberty View Industrial Plaza and Whale Square have led to job growth in the community.

Red Hook piers, as seen from a ferry

Red Hook, formerly isolated from a lack of nearby subway lines and congested bus routes, is no longer stranded. Greenpoint, once connected to Manhattan and Brooklyn by way of the G train, now has the East River ferry line, connecting both Williamsburg and Greenpoint to Midtown and the Financial District in minutes.

As more luxury development comes to northern Brooklyn, and with the L train shutdown imminent, the ferry service will bolster investor confidence as million-dollar condos and luxury rental projects continue to come online. 

New Yorkers are in desperate need of transportation alternatives to reach their homes and places of business. Aside from Citi Bike terminals and waiting for the future Brooklyn Queens Connector rail system, the NYC Ferry System is not only a great solution to a lack of infrastructure, but also a speedy one, Fitzsimmons said. 

“Whether you’re traveling from Greenpoint to DUMBO, Red Hook to Wall Street, Astoria to Midtown, Rockaway Beach to Sunset Park and many other hard-to-reach destinations in between, the NYC Ferry Service has utilized the natural resource of New York City's waterways and has created a quicker, more efficient way to get from A to B,” Fitzsimmons said.

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