Leaders: Additional capacity needed to meet public demand
Congressman Brian Higgins and New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan are calling for additional ferry service this season to meet the demand for more efficient connections between the Buffalo inner and outer harbors.
"As the popularity of Canalside and Outer Harbor destinations including the historic lighthouse, Wilkeson Pointe, Times Beach, Tifft Nature Preserve and Buffalo Harbor State Park continue to grow, ferry service must grow with it," Higgins said.
Ryan said "The Queen City Bike Ferry has been a resounding success, and this summer we should work to build on that success by expanding capacity. The ferry will continue to grow in popularity, and steps should be taken to ensure as many people as possible can enjoy the ferry this summer and beyond."
Ferry service, provided by Queen City Ferry, first began in 2011 with a longer-distance route, since a public landing immediately across from Canalside was not available at that time. During that first year, the ferry carried 5,000 passengers.
Higgins and Ryan both advocated for faster ferry service and a more direct route to provide better connectivity between the harbors. An agreement between Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. and the New York Power Authority, the owner of the Outer Harbor landing site, provided more efficient ferry service during the 2015 season.
The new ferry, which also accommodates bicycles, was tremendously popular, carrying 50,000 riders during its maiden 2015 operating season, which ran from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
However, the vessel can only hold up to 49 passengers and 25 bicycles, often leaving families lined up on both sides of the harbor for extended periods of time. Those who don't make the cutoff due to capacity levels are left to wait for the ferry to return one or even two times, creating delays of 30-60 minutes.
Construction is now underway on an improved landing site along the Outer Harbor to better accommodate efficient docking. The $825,000 project is made possible with funding provided through the federal relicensing settlement with NYPA and expected to be completed in the coming months. The new dock will help reduce the 30-minute round-trip voyage by about five minutes or slightly more. Still, Higgins said, passengers are left to think twice about taking the ferry at all, as uncertainty remains as to how long they will be left to wait when they are ready to return.
Higgins and Ryan said building in ferry reliability is important way to help enhance the waterfront experience and encourage increased visitors. They pointed to the popular Toronto ferry system, which maintains eight vessels, some of which carry as many as 700 passengers between the City of Toronto and Toronto Islands at a rate of 1.2 million passengers annually, year-round. While the Toronto region serves a greater population, many of the characteristics are similar, including a one-of-a-kind urban waterfront experience with ferry links to a lighthouse, parks, beaches, restaurants and family-friendly attractions.