Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fiscally troubled ferry program added a new route between Staten Island and the west side of Manhattan on Monday, with a second expansion set to bring the boats to Coney Island later this year.
The latest NYC Ferry route connects St. George in Staten Island to Battery Park City and Midtown West. Local officials praised the path — which largely overlaps with the existing Staten Island Ferry — as a game-changer for the borough, while noting it fell short of the city’s mass transit needs.
“This is not a panacea, this is not a cure-all, and this doesn’t get us to mass transit equity,” Borough President Jimmy Oddo said at the unveiling. “But it sure does help a lot of people. It reduces their commutes and gives a lot of their lives back to them.”
The new route will carry Staten Islanders to Battery Park City in about 18 minutes, or seven minutes fewer than the fare-free Staten Island Ferry’s trip to the Whitehall Terminal. Like all NYC Ferry trips, it will cost $2.75 per ride, in line with the price of a subway or bus fare.
But transportation experts have warned that the heavy subsidies required to keep prices down on the boats is not tenable, particularly as the system continues to expand. In 2019, the ferries received a subsidy of more than $10 per ride, or roughly tenfold more than that of the NYC Transit System.
“It’s clear this funding model is not sustainable in the long run, particularly if they’re going to be adding routes,” said Sean Campion, a senior research associate with the Citizens Budget Commission who has studied the ferries. “At some point there needs to be some action to stabilize the system, either raising fares or coming up with additional subsidy to cover that gap.”
The NYC Economic Development Corporation, an arm of government that leases city property, such as Hunts Point and the Brooklyn Army Terminal, was struggling even before the pandemic disrupted many of its income-generating leases. The quasi-public agency ran a deficit for the first time in 2019, Campion said, with NYC Ferry representing the largest strain on the budget.
Both the mayor and the NYC EDC have defended the transit mode and its funding model. They note that ridership has returned to 75% of its pre-pandemic totals, when the entire system was serving about about 6 million people per year. That’s on par with many MTA bus lines, and roughly equivalent to the number of riders who use the city’s subway system in a single day.
Despite concerns, city officials said they intended to move forward with a second expansion to Coney Island later this year. The long-planned route has generated its own share of controversy, as several local leaders have warned against building the ferry terminal in a notoriously contaminated Coney Island Creek.
In an email, a spokesperson for EDC said the new route would launch at an unspecified date this fall.