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Report Says NYC Ferry Mainly Used by Affluent, White New Yorkers

A ferry at Hunters Point South in Long Island City (Photo: Nathaly Pesantez)

Oct. 1, 2019. By Shane O’Brien

Riders of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s heavily subsidized NYC Ferry system are predominately white and wealthy New Yorkers, according to a report released by the city on Tuesday.

The study, conducted by the Economic Development Corporation which runs the ferry along with private company Hornblower, was carried out over a two-week period in May and June and included over 5,400 ferry riders.

The EDC determined that 64 percent of ferry users were white, while a rider’s median income was between $75,000 and $99,000. The study also found that 86 percent of ferry riders identified as New Yorkers.

In contrast, a report from the office of Comptroller Scott Stringer in November 2017 found that the average income of bus riders in New York City was a meager $28,455.

Furthermore, 75 percent of bus users were people of color, while 55 percent of bus users were foreign born, according to the Comptroller’s report.

The Comptroller’s Office also found that the median income of subway riders was around $40,000 in a report at the same time. The report also found that roughly two-thirds of straphangers were people of color.

Stringer slammed the ferry system in light of the recent findings and said that more needed to be done to make it a fairer mode of transport. The Comptroller has been an outspoken critic of the ferry system in the past.

“If the City is serious about building out a robust ferry system that can succeed, then it must be run transparently and efficiently and serve a broad range of New Yorkers,” Stringer said. “These survey results show that EDC must do more to ensure the ferry system reaches those who need it most.”​

The Mayor’s ferry system received criticism earlier this year after a report from the Citizen’s Budget Commission (CBC) found that the city spends $10.73 per ferry rider to keep NYC Ferry afloat.

In comparison, the city only pays roughly $1.05 per subway rider.

The high subsidy for NYC Ferry is due to high operating costs and low revenue, according to the CBC.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson was also critical of the ferry system following the release of Tuesday’s report.

He said that while the ferries have helped some underserved neighborhoods in the city, there were still questions about the high levels of subsidy. Johnson said that the ferries didn’t serve people with lower incomes and said that the city needed to focus on speeding up buses and trains.

Johnson again called for control of New York’s public transport to be handed back to the city.

“Ferries can be part of a holistic transit system, but right now we don’t even have a holistic system. This is a perfect example of why we need municipal control of the subways and buses combined with a master plan for our streets – both of which I’m fighting for to help New Yorkers get around.”

NYC Ferry was established in May 2017 by de Blasio and has been heavily criticized for high costs.

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42 Comments

james edstrom

Low income do not use the system because they would have to pay more with transfers. There are many low income people on the water. The ferry system does not give transfers like the buses and subways. When you get off the ferry and head to the subway, you have to pay again. If you ride a citi bike to ferry, you have to pay again. The council had a meeting about this over a year ago. The plan was to link everything together so you would get a free transfer. So if you rode citi bike or took a bus or subway to a ferry, there would be a free transfer. If you took the ferry and then a bus or subway, there would be a free transfer. As always with our councilman, in our case Jimmy Van Bramer, they never followed up on this, they never tried to implement this. This is the main reason low income do not use the ferry, it’s about the transfers. It is not about the rich living on the water, low income live here too, it is about getting the best bang for your buck which the rich do not have to worry about. I also do not understand this study because the low income in Hunters Point South seem to ride the ferry all the time. So many paradoxes.

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FOH

Here’s an idea: JUST TAKE ONE!

If you live by the water, you’ve been walking the 20 blocks to the subway all this time anyway (or waiting for the bus)! No one’s forcing anybody to take the ferry, just like no one’s preventing anyone from taking the ferry either.

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James Carman

First the statin island ferry. IS FREE NO CRYING ABOUT THAT. Second there are Free ferry buses from Far rockaway making stops to the ferry & back. Third It attracts tourist who spend a lot of money here here in NY.

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Kat

To pull race or economic status into the whole thing of ferry commute is ludicrous! I am black and use the ferry very often, not because I have money or anything, merely because sometimes the train gets stuck and I can not get home except by ferry. Everyone is entitled to use the ferry, it’s a matter of choice!

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Kalisha

I agree. And I do not mind the mainly white tourists always mistaking me for staff. The ferry IS A GODSEND!!

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FOH

Maybe if you stopped wearing khakis and a blue polo shirt with a life preserver, that wouldn’t happen! LOL

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LIC Direct

while I swipe my metro card, 7 people walked right through the open gate without paying the fare. Bet no one sneaks in on the NYC ferry. The tale of two cities haves and have not’s.

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R

What’s with the race baiting? Maybe it’s because waterfront properties are more expensive than those inland, and therefore more likely to have more affluent people on them. Or maybe it’s because riding the ferry everyday is more expensive than riding the subway. If it’s more expensive, people who can’t afford it won’t use it as often.

There are lots of reasons why this may be true. It’s strange this article would negatively portray the race and class of people using the excellent ferry service.

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Anon

If you think that’s progress- you’re a real estate developer and only see $$$. In reality, it’s really a waste of $$$.

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Anonymous

Go look at the proposed route of that trolley on the chronically cramped and jammed neighborhood roadways and tell me that it is progress. In theory, the BQX sounds great, but in reality it would be just a wasteful nuisance that does very little to improve public transit.

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Thomas

I use this ferry. Clean scenic a bar and a bathroom and no bums. 40 minutes to wall st. Never stuck in the tunnel. Never without a seat. And beer and wine in the evening. Oh and no rats.

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Larry

A ferry system that is an integrated part of a robust mass-transit system is good. A slapdash ferry service that outsources ferry service to expensive private companies and is presented as a solution to the mass transit crisis the city is facing is dumb!

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Kim

I ride it, and I’m not even a little surprised by this. The ferry is a massive waste of money, it sees pitiful daily ridership, and a ridiculously high number of the users, especially on the East River route (by far the most ridden route) are tourists getting a massively subsidized boat tour they could pay for. Also the subway does serve pretty much every neighborhood where the ferry runs. The Rockaway ferry is literally a block away from the A train. The financial district, midtown, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, LIC, Astoria, Bay Ridge all have the subway.

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FOH

“it sees pitiful daily ridership, and a ridiculously high number of the users”
– Isn’t that a contradiction!? What’s the difference between riders and users?

“tourists getting a massively subsidized boat tour they could pay for”
– They do pay for it. You have to pay to get on the boat.

“Also the subway does serve pretty much every neighborhood where the ferry runs”
– Western Queens: no subways, Eastern Manhattan: no subways

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brooklynmc

Very few of the ferry stops are actually near a subway station and the waterfronts is developing faster than anywhere else in the city. Yes, waterfront property tends to be more expensive but I think the important things here is that our subway system is seriously overburdened. It has always cost the guy in Far Rockaway the same amount to get to Manhattan as it costs the guy who goes 2 stops. Maybe the whole system should be like highway tolls. The farther you go, the more you pay. If we want to be fair.

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Regina

“It has always cost the guy in Far Rockaway the same amount to get to Manhattan as it costs the guy who goes 2 stops.” That statement is false; I grew up in Rockaway and from the time the subway took the tracks over from the LIRR to the mid- 1970s you had to pay double fare to get on the subway from Broad Channel to the Rockaways. You had to put two tokens in the turnstile AND you had to put one token in the turnstile to exit. They called that the “exit fare;” and, that was how they got the double fare out of you when you paid a single in another station to travel to Rockaway. It wasn’t until the the fare went up to fifty cents in the ’70s that they eliminated the double fare because we would have been paying a dollar each way. I was born and raised in Rockaway and remember this well.

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Fiona

The A train is not reliable, DANGEROUS and filthy. Will not allow my kids to ride. During summer it adds 1 to 2 hrs to their ride. But that’s better than Rockaway A

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Robert

I love the ferry! But I am, as advertised, a “white person who lives in an expensive neighborhood.”

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Elise McGraner

$9.40 of that subsidy is the water freight levy charged by the city to use the docks. Almost a century old, that is a tax imposed for lading goods on water vessels. The city could abolish that altogether.

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Frank

Oh, the horror: white people with money are benefiting from something in the city they contribute taxes too.

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Willy

They don’t pay taxes on this planet – false deductions off of “consultant income”, hidden assets to avoid capital gains tax and they live in 421a buildings that don’t pay property tax. “Only the little people pay taxes” – Leona Helmsley

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brooklynmc

Leona Helmsley does not live in LIC. Most of us are renting and paying more than we can afford. We are not poor, but by NYC standards, we are not rich. Not looking for sympathy just trying to keep this real. The ultra rich are not paying their fair share but we do.

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Anonymous

Stringer “slams” the ferry? How exactly is it the ferries’ fault for serving the customers that use it? They are certainly not discriminating against minorities of anyone who wants to use their service.

Just more hot air from our awful city leaders. If anything, we should explore expanded and creative ways to exploit the wonderful resource — our waterways — for transit so that more and more New Yorkers can use ferries in their daily commutes.

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Ed Parkin

The East River routes are just an experiment and is scheduled to end in 2022. The plan was to reduce or eliminate subsidies through ad and event revenues which have not materialized till date. Funding for next year is already being challenged but might get passed. Winding up operations by Aug 2022.

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ASensibleMan

“Riders of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s heavily subsidized NYC Ferry system are predominately white and wealthy New Yorkers, according to a report released by the city on Tuesday.”

Well we can’t have THAT! Everyone knows that Social Justice Warrior DeStupido is 100% committed to the “no more whites” platform of the Democratic Party. Which IS their platform, even if most whites in NYC are too dense to see it.

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Celia M.

There are some really good comments here! I agree that the buses should connect better with the ferry, and that seniors should be able to get reduced fare single rides. The ferry makes NYC a more beautiful place. It’s a great cheap thrill for weekends. However, it’s not much of a commute option for those of us who are not fortunate enough to live on the waterfront.

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Anonymous

You could reduce staffing on the ferries by looking into ways to make them safer and make ticketing turnstile-based like in buses and subways. But those are jobs for people in the city. It’s not just how much you pay for a subsidy, look where the money goes. These are jobs for who are not fortunate enough to have a college degree and it could provide stability. And compared to the MTA, I suppose pay is not even that cushy.

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Eric Renard

The NYC Ferry system also discriminates against senior citizens by not offering single ride reduced fares. Reduced senior citizen fares are only offered to monthly riders which is a ridiculous and cynical offering…. How many seniors still work and can avail themselves to this option…?

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Jack Doe

Seniors and the disabled are far better served by shuttle bus services that go point-to-point.

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Eric Renard

Fortunately, federal legislation addresses myopic views such as yours…. I will be sixty-six on Tuesday, do not need senior shuttle services, and am more than likely in better shape than you. How dare you suggest what WE need.!!

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Just Silly

Oh, Eric are you serious with your comment “The NYC Ferry system also discriminates against senior citizens” how silly. A senior or any person who cannot afford a fare does not equal discrimination. There are quite a few Seniors who were able to retire with pensions, can afford a taxi but won’t pay for it because they abuse the Access A Ride, Seniors also get a reduction in Real Estate Taxes and quite of few still out there are reaping the benefits of their Rent Controlled apartments, which they then pass on to their children. Listen, either take the ferry or don’t, maybe some people don’t fear water or can’t swim, so then don’t take the ferry. Creating a racial issue or a Senior discrimination issue is as dumb as dirt.

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MrLIC

That’s because the ferry terminals are on the river, which is where prime real estate is, and consequently wealthy commuters. Hardly a revelation.

If you want to make the ferry more equitable, then connect it to bus routes and allow bus ticket holders to transfer to the ferry on the same ticket.

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Laura

Google “River Park Towers”, “Astoria Houses” “Highbridge” “Morris Heights” “Polo Grounds” “Dyckman Houses” “Canarsie” “Starrett City” “Co-op City” You might learn something.

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Anonymous

Many people living near the water pay higher rent and work in areas the ferry system serves. If they are white or another race, it doesn’t really matter. Raise the cost if you feel it should be higher but the study shouldn’t come as a drastic surprise and the ferry system has enhanced the area and provide an alternate for people to stay off subways. Is this really an issue?

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Taverner

The ferries operate on the water; waterfront living is expensive; rich people are the ones using the ferries. Not much mystery there. The subsidy is crazy, agreed, but the solution is not less transit. New York would be stupid to scrap such an attractive transit option. The question shouldn’t be what to do about the ferry, but what to do about the communities underserved by transit.

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