Ferries sailing to success for New York

For commuters moving oh so slowly through dark tunnels in packed subway cars, or waiting on crowded platforms for trains that never show, a ferry can be a ship of dreams. Now, it’s becoming a reality for even more New Yorkers.

NYC’s ferry service is a popular success, providing 3.7 million rides in its first year on four routes, reaching the Rockaways, Astoria, Brooklyn and Manhattan. By 2023, the ferries are expected to provide as many as 9 million rides. Coming this summer: new stops on the Lower East Side and in the Bronx. And City Hall plans to invest $300 million over the next five years for larger boats, better piers and docks and a new port for maintenance and storage.

That all bodes well. NYC continues to explore ways to ease the strain on the subways and buses, and to find ways to serve residents in areas underserved by public transportation. Even though the ferry network transports a fraction of the city’s commuters, it has the potential to grow and to help fill a significant need, especially as passengers pay $2.75 per ride — the same as a subway fare.

But with that growth comes responsibility, and increasing oversight, analysis and effective management. If the city is going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars and subsidize the system to the tune of $6.60 per ride today, city residents deserve an accounting of how the money is spent and how the system is doing. That means regular reporting on whether the boats are on time, whether they’re at or beyond capacity, and which lines work well and which do not. And it means city officials have to make sure that the public-private partnership that’s in place to manage the growing system succeeds.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ferry focus shouldn’t come at the expense of subways and buses, or the funding of important options like the half-priced MetroCard, which de Blasio has not wanted to pay for, but which the City Council supports. But de Blasio is right to consider ferries a transit alternative for residents along the city’s waterways.

If city officials manage the ferries well, it can be smooth sailing ahead.