Ferries cost city nearly $11 a ride

The government kicks in $10.73 for each ride on the city’s ferry system. (Pictured) A ferry along the Lower East Side route pulls into the Stuyvesant Cove stop. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A report from government watchdog group the Citizens Budget Commission found that subsidies for the city’s ferry system are 10 times what the government pays for subway trips.

The New York Post reported last Thursday that according to the report, the city kicks in $10.73 for each individual ferry trip, compared to the $1.05 subsidy for each subway trip, despite the fact that the fare for both modes of transportation is the same at $2.75. And although the Staten Island ferry is free for riders, the subsidy per trip is almost half that of NYC Ferry’s at $5.46 because the operating costs for the service are lower.

Although the mayor’s office said that ridership for NYC Ferry service is expected to grow to nine million by 2023, its ridership of 4.1 million rides in 2018 is much lower than daily use of the subway. The report found that the subway, on which there were 2.7 billion trips in 2017, serves more people in a single day than the ferry serves all year.

CBC’s report notes that the subsidies are high because the operating costs are high due to the long routes and seasonal ridership, but also because revenue is low since the fare is pegged to the subway and bus fare. NYC Ferry recently announced an expansion that the report said will require even further subsidies, costing as much as $24.75 per ride for the Coney Island route.

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the ferry system and the high cost of the subsidies during his weekly radio appearance on WNYC, calling the report from the CBC “short-sighted analysis” and justifying the subsidies as government investment.

“We’ve added half a million people over the last 15-20 years. We’re going to add another half million people over the next 15 to 20 years ahead,” de Blasio said of ferry ridership. “Anyone who thinks our existing transit system can handle all of that is someone who thinks marijuana has already been legalized in New York State and is smoking some. The fact is it is impossible to do what we have to do with the city if we don’t expand mass transit options. So we have had a four-pronged attack. More bike options, more Select Bus Service, which is those faster, dedicated bus routes. More light rail, that’s going to be the BQX, Brooklyn and Queens. And for the first time ever, a citywide ferry system.”

The cost of one-way fare for the ferry is $2.75, the current price of a subway ride, but the payment isn’t integrated into the MetroCard system and the service isn’t operated by NYC Transit or the MTA. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration began an East River ferry route in 2011 operated by the Economic Development Corporation and according to the report, was subsidized at a lower rate than the current ferries.

The current system was initially launched by the de Blasio administration in 2017 and is managed by the EDC while Hornblower Cruises operates the vessels. The network integrated the existing East River ferry route originally launched by Bloomberg.

NYC Ferry launched a new route last August offering service to and from Stuyvesant Cove on the Lower East Side route. The route was initially planned to be part of the mitigation for the L train shutdown to provide alternatives for commuters to travel to and from the East Side without the L, but the city said the route would remain despite changes in the construction project.

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