In light of the increase in ferry ridership and decrease in avenues to Manhattan after the World Trade Center tragedy, NY Waterway, the local ferry service with ports in Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken, has added routes and will soon add vessels.
According to spokesman Pat Smith, NY Waterway has been transporting more than 50,000 commuters daily - an increase of 47 percent over the usual 34,000 daily passengers - since most workers returned to work in lower Manhattan on Monday.
"We're over 50,000 and still going up," Smith said. "A lot of people have given up trying to drive into the city, with all the traffic problems at the Lincoln Tunnel. We have our full fleet of 24 vessels shuttling passengers back and forth during rush hour, plus an additional four boats we've chartered to use from Fire Island Ferry."
NY Waterway ferries have provided a good alternative, since the Holland Tunnel remains closed and some PATH service to lower Manhattan has been interrupted.
Since NY Waterway's regular terminal at the World Financial Center has been closed due to the tragedy, Smith said that NY Waterway has been transporting passengers to Pier 11 near South Street Seaport.
NY Waterway ferries from Weehawken's Port Imperial terminal, from Hoboken's rail pier and from Harborside Financial Center, Colgate, Liberty Harbor and Port Liberte in Jersey City have all been making regular runs to and from Pier 11 on the East River, near the foot of Wall Street.
"We have boats pulling out every five to 10 minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hours," Smith said. "And we've increased the number of boats. For example, instead of five boats leaving every morning from Hoboken's rail terminal, we now have seven. And we have five boats leaving from Port Imperial, instead of three. And these boats are in constant motion."
Added Smith, "Since the police are still restricting access to lower Manhattan east of Broadway, Pier 11 provides commuters with a five- to seven-minute walk to the Wall Street area. If commuters can get to our terminals, then we can get you close to where you have to go and in a hurry."
Smith said that NY Waterway is still bringing passengers from Weehawken and 13th Street in Hoboken to its terminal at 38th Street and the West Side Highway in New York. Once there, commuters can hop on shuttle buses to points throughout midtown Manhattan.
Although the commuter load has dramatically increased since the tragedy, Smith said that the NY Waterway fleet isn't even close to capacity.
"We could handle 250,000 passengers a day, so we're far from capacity," Smith said.
Smith said that additional vessels are on the way.
"NY Waterway has purchased four new boats, and we're expecting delivery from Alaska within the next six weeks," Smith said. "At this time of year, the touring and sight-seeing business generally comes to an end, so more boats are becoming available to charter. We've been in contact with those owners to see if we could charter those boats and they could become available as early as next week. That would enable us to handle more passengers and have shorter wait times at the terminals. So we're ready to put more boats in the water and looking for additional landing areas."
Smith said that NY Waterway is in negotiations with NJ Transit to have bus routes sent to the old ferry terminal in Jersey City so that they can carry commuters from that location as well.
"NJ Transit has asked us and we've said yes," Smith said. "As long as it's needed, we will provide additional service. It's been a horrendous disaster for all of us, but NY Waterway is doing its job to address the needs. It's a tragedy that has presented a tremendous inconvenience for a lot of people. But we're ready to help."
Smith said that the parking lot at Weehawken is being used to capacity on a daily basis, so he does not suggest trying to drive to a NY Waterway terminal location.
"The best thing would be to come via NJ Transit bus, but just prepare for a little bit of a crowd during the morning rush," Smith said. "My advice would be to come either a little earlier than 8 a.m. or after 10 a.m. If you can make your commute time flexible, chances are that you'll find the boats less crowded. Don't come to Weehawken expecting a parking space, because they're simply not there."
Although there has been an increase of passenger volume, Smith said that the daily rates have not dropped, due to the purchase of vessels, the chartering of others, the increased amount of staff and the construction of new piers and loading docks.
"Everything has been done on an emergency basis, so there have been some costs," Smith said.
For further information about ferry schedules, passenger rates and increased routes, log on to www.nywaterway.com.