Mixing cargo and commuters

new ferry serving New York City The new ferry serving New York City

COMMENT: This year, ferry transport is all the rage, at least around New York, writes Barry Parker.

At the beginning of May, service began on NYC Ferry, operated by Hornblower Marine, a veteran in the local ferry and dinner boat trades.

The first route will link the physically remote Rockaway Peninsula with the downtown business district near Wall Street. The route, the first of many that will be rolled out over the next two years, will bring infrastructure-weary commuters (and curious citizens) out of the underground and onto the water.

Long time readers will remember my laments about the invisibility of port commerce and the working waterfront. But suddenly, the waterfront is now visible to a whole new audience. Yes, the operator behind the ferry hosts a completely different crew from those running the port, and yes, the ferry route is on the opposite side of the harbour from the big container docks in New Jersey. But in these days of social media, public outreach is effected by ordinary citizens out on the water tweeting, redditing, and instagramming all about their experiences.

Many of these new riders - who consume “news” via a smartphone, rather than reading press releases - are influential professionals who work in Wall Street and New York’s burgeoning media businesses. 

There are tremendous opportunities here in New York, and presumably in other ports feeling the ferry or water taxi boom, for savvy publicists to latch on to a whole new audience and recirculate all the ferry postings with a commercial slant.

In New York, the intersection of the new ferry and working commerce in the port, is, curiously, a container on barge service that began last year, linking New Jersey’s docks with Brooklyn and avoiding the impossibility of trucks crossing multiple bridges and tunnels. The barge’s shuttling pattern is clearly visible to the ferry riders.

This geographical juxtaposition in the Upper Bay around the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn - a hotbed of industrial maritime activity - should be viewed as more than a happy coincidence of lines crossing on a map with riders able to peer at 20 foot and 40 foot boxes moving across the harbour.

At a recent maritime lunch at the India House in downtown Manhattan, an official from the Maritime Administration described the local waterfront as "critical on a national level". Now, a new marketing hook exists, locally and certainly in other “invisible” ports, to create the awareness of just how important and vibrant the working waterfront is.

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