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LIC ferry stocks more kid life jackets

Since its two-week free trial period ended June 24, the ratio of child passengers on the East River Ferry has increased while there has been a drop in overall ridership to more manageable levels.

On the first day passengers had to pay the $4 fee, 4,756 rode the ferry compared to the 6,000 who took the ferry on the first day of its free trial run.

But recent customers complained of not being able to board the ferry due to the lack of children’s life jackets.

“We’ve noticed that the service is popular for families with young children and, in order to better accommodate their needs, we are increasing the number of children’s life preservers on the ferries to 25,” said Paul Goodman, CEO of Billybey Ferry Co., which operates the ferry.

According to U.S. Coast Guard regulations, each passenger on board must have a suitable life jacket available. In addition, for any given vessel 10 percent of life jackets on board must be child-sized, fitting children under 12 or kids weighing less than 90 pounds.

“Life jackets are designed to be able to save your life and keep your head out of the water, so it’s important to have the appropriate size life jacket,” said Coast Guard spokeswoman Jetta Disco.

With 149 seats per vessel, the East River Ferry had previously stored only 15 children’s life jackets onboard. Lack of space had prevented the ferry from holding more life jackets, which are usually kept under the seats.

But the ferry has found enough room to store 10 additional life jackets per boat, allowing 25 children to ride each vessel, said NY Waterway, which contracted Billybey to run the ferry. A supervising adult, however, must accompany every two children under 5, for whom passage is free.

The temporary life jacket crisis illustrates how popular the ferry still is despite the $4 fee, which is nearly twice the cost of a ride on the subway or bus. The number of passengers is lower than during the free trial period, but ridership is higher than the ferry had expected, Goodman said.

In addition to summer tourists, the ferry has attracted a steady commuter base.

“We are starting to see loyal commuters who are taking the ferry every day to work,” said NY Waterway representative Damiano DeMonte.

In order to accommodate the large number of passengers, the ferry is running all three vessels on a summer schedule, with ferries every 20 minutes during peak hours and every 30 minutes during off-peak hours on weekdays.

The ferry runs from East 34th Street in Midtown to Pier 11 at Wall Street with stops in Long Island City and Brooklyn.

Reach reporter Evelyn Cheng by phone at 718-260-4524.

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