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Ferry is finding following among tired commuters

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Straphangers put off by the sardine-like conditions below ground have come up for air on a promising transportation alternative that isn’t just for fish.

The new high-speed ferry service cruising across the East River from Hunter’s Point has already begun procuring a small but dedicated following.

“It’s better than taking the subway, man,” said one 37-year-old commuter from Smithtown, L.I.

“It’s more civilized,” said his commuting buddy, 29, also from Smithtown.

At $5 a pop each way from Hunter’s Point to Wall Street (or about $3.60 per trip with a monthly pass), there is no doubt the new ride on a New York Waterway high-speed ferry is a luxury, and it remains to be seen how many will shell out cash for the comfort and convenience of water transport.

But the service was free in its first week of operation, giving a host of commuters from Nassau to Jersey and places in between the priceless chance to enjoy the high life of cruising the waves while escaping the caverns of their typical commute.

“I think it’s much better than underground,” said Paul Pennisi, 30, of Hoboken, who rode one ferry from New Jersey to Wall Street and then hopped aboard the new service to Long Island City, where he works at a telecommunications firm. “The views are unbelievable.”

“Sometimes I just don’t feel like taking the subway. It’s so yucky,” said Dani Feore, 29, who lives at the Avalon Riverview building overlooking the ferry landing.

The service began Sept. 3 with two sets of boats running between the ferry docks at 2nd Street and Borden Avenue in Long Island City to Pier 11 on Wall Street, an eight-minute ride, and across the river to East 34th Street, only five minutes away.

The two Wall Street boats are new vessels with multiple rows of plush seats and large windows offering wide vistas of the Manhattan skyline and clear underbelly shots of each bridge it passes beneath, from the Williamsburg to the Manhattan and the Brooklyn.

The boat pulls slowly out of the dock like a waterborne bus, only to gradually accelerate until its nose rises well above the sheets of water it sends cascading into the air, making the trip feel more like a flight than a float.

Alex Figueroa, 23, an asset manager with Goldman Sachs who lives in East Elmhurst, found himself mesmerized by “the beautiful view of the water splashing on the side of the boat.”

The rumbling floor and sound of splashing water can be awfully soothing, creating a sensation the Sharper Image might try to replicate in a lounge chair. One woman who plopped down into a corner window seat wedged herself into a cozy nook where she was able to close her eyes drift to sleep within seconds of removing her pink cardigan.

Try doing that on a subway.

She wasn’t the only one who found the ride to be a nice break from the ordinary routine. The deck hand, a onetime commercial fisherman with a ruddy, weathered face and short gray whiskers, said his job was nothing compared to the 13 or so years he worked on a fishing boat, when it was not unusual for him to spend 320 days of the year on the water.

“To me it’s easy and I’m home every night,” he said, brushing off his seemingly draconian work hours on the ferry — starting at 4:30 a.m. and closing up at 11 p.m. (He does get a couple hours to nap in the middle.)

“I have never considered myself fully assimilated into the real world,” he said.

He also signs up for overtime.

A similar service that only ran to East 34th Street had been discontinued in the spring of last year because of low ridership, a problem New York Waterway anticipates it will overcome because of the new Wall Street route and the continued development of Long Island City.

But many commuters who splashed in the waters free of charge last week were preparing to return to the tunnels this week, because the ticket prices were simply prohibitive.

“It’s wonderful. I love traveling on the water,” said one 49-year-old art director who said she still would not ride the ferry regularly because of the expense. “They’d get more riders if they lowered the price.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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