Staten Island Ferry

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Staten Island Ferry
Spirit of America - Staten Island Ferry.jpg
LocaleStaten Island and Manhattan, New York City
WaterwayUpper New York Bay
Transit typePassenger ferry
OperatorNew York City Department of Transportation
Began operation1817
System length5.2 mi (8.4 km)
No. of lines1
No. of vessels8
No. of terminals2
Daily ridership75,000
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For the cocktail, see Staten Island Ferry (cocktail).
Staten Island Ferry
Spirit of America - Staten Island Ferry.jpg
LocaleStaten Island and Manhattan, New York City
WaterwayUpper New York Bay
Transit typePassenger ferry
OperatorNew York City Department of Transportation
Began operation1817
System length5.2 mi (8.4 km)
No. of lines1
No. of vessels8
No. of terminals2
Daily ridership75,000
St George terminal

The Staten Island Ferry is a passenger ferry service operated by the New York City Department of Transportation that runs between the boroughs of Manhattan and Staten Island.


The ferry departs Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal, South Ferry, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan near Battery Park. On Staten Island, the ferry arrives and departs from St. George Ferry Terminal on Richmond Terrace, near Richmond County Borough Hall and Richmond County Supreme Court. Service is provided 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Staten Island Ferry is quite a reliable form of mass transit, with an on-time performance of over 96 percent[citation needed]. The Staten Island Ferry has been a municipal service since 1905, and currently carries over 21 million passengers annually on the 5.2-mile (8.4 km) run.

The five-mile (8 km) journey takes about 25 minutes each way. The ferry is free of charge, though riders must disembark at each terminal and reenter through the terminal building for a round trip to comply with Coast Guard regulations regarding vessel capacity and the placeholding optical turnstiles at both terminals.[1] Bicycles may also be taken on the lowest deck of the ferry without charge. In the past, ferries were equipped for vehicle transport, at a charge of $3 per automobile; however, vehicles have not been allowed on the ferry since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

For most of the 20th century, the ferry was famed as the biggest bargain in New York City. It charged the same one-nickel fare as the New York City Subway but the ferry fare remained a nickel when the subway fare increased to 10 cents in 1948. In 1970 then-Mayor John V. Lindsay proposed that the fare be raised to 25 cents, pointing out that the cost for each ride was 50 cents, or ten times what the fare brought in. On August 4, 1975, the nickel fare ended and the charge became 25 cents for a round trip, the quarter being collected in one direction only. The round trip increased to 50 cents in 1990, but the fare was eliminated altogether in 1997.

There is commuter parking at the St George Ferry terminal, which is also the terminus of the Staten Island Railway. On the Manhattan side the new Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal, dedicated in 2005, has convenient access to subways, buses, taxis and bicycle routes. The ferry ride is a favorite of tourists to New York as it provides excellent views of the Lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. The ferry, like the subway system, runs twenty-four hours a day, with service continuing overnight after most day peak traffic has ceased.

The route of the Staten Island Ferry across Upper New York Bay is shown in yellow on a TERRA satellite photo of New York Harbor

In addition to the ferry, the city also provides a number of Manhattan to Staten Island bus services, but Staten Island has no passenger rail connection to any other Borough, either by bridge or underground, due to the cancellation of the Staten Island Tunnel in the 1920s.

While the ferries no longer transport motor vehicles they do transport bicycles. There are two bicycle entrances to the ferry from either borough. The bike entrance is always on the first floor so bicyclists can enter the ferry from the ground without needing to enter the building. The ground entrance is also reserved exclusively for bike-riders (everyone else must use the 2nd floor entrance). Cyclists must dismount and walk their bicycles to the waiting area and onto the boat and bicycles must be stored in the designated bicycle storage area on each boat. Cyclists are subject to screening upon arrival at the ferry terminals. [2]

The ferry is a popular place to go on Saturday night; beer and snacks are served.[3]

Whitehall Terminal[edit]

The Staten Island Ferry Terminal, Lower Manhattan
The message board at the Ferry Terminal, showing the message "Have a nice day".
The message board at the Ferry Terminal

On February 7, 2005, a completely renovated and modernized terminal, designed by architect Frederic Schwartz, was dedicated, along with the new two-acre Peter Minuit Plaza in Battery Park.[4] The terminal was designed to accommodate over 100,000 tourists and commuters on a daily basis (for transportation open 24 hours a day), and the new design establishes the terminal as a major integrated transportation hub, connecting it with a new South Ferry subway station complex with access to subways, buses, and taxis.[4] Additionally, through the Terminal and Minuit Plaza, access to bicycle lanes and even other water transport options are also available.[5]

A "gateway to the city," set against the backdrop of Manhattan's greatest buildings on one side and the river on the other, the design was created to imbue the terminal "with a strong sense of civic presence."[4] In his remarks at the terminal's February 7, 2005, dedication, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that "You can walk into this spectacular terminal day or night and feel like you're part of the city ... (the terminal) is a continuation of what you feel on the ferry ... in a sense you are suspended over the water."[4] Described as "an elegant addition to [the] city's architecture," a 2005 Newsday writer called it a transit hub that is so beautiful that it has become a "destination": with "the panorama of lower Manhattan from the top of the escalators, the vast windows framing the Statue of Liberty, the upstairs deck with views of the harbor -- these are reasons to take shelter here for a little longer than the ferry schedule makes strictly necessary."[6]


In the 18th century, ferry service between Staten Island and the city of New York (then occupying only the southern tip of Manhattan) was conducted by private individuals with "periaugers", shallow-draft, two-masted sailboats used for local traffic in New York harbor. In the early 19th century, Vice President (and former New York governor) Daniel D. Tompkins secured a charter for the Richmond Turnpike Company, as part of his efforts to develop the village of Tompkinsville; though intended to build a highway across Staten Island, the company also received the right to run a ferry to New York. The Richmond Turnpike Company is the direct ancestor of the current municipal ferry.

Lower Manhattan skyline from the deck of the Ferry, 2010

In 1817 the Richmond Turnpike Company began to run the first motorized ferry between New York and Staten Island, the steam-powered Nautilus. It was commanded by Captain John De Forest, the brother-in-law of a young man named Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1838 Vanderbilt, who had grown wealthy in the steamboat business in New York waters, bought control of the company. Except for a brief period in the 1850s, he would remain the dominant figure in the ferry until the Civil War, when he sold it to the Staten Island Railway, led by his brother Jacob Vanderbilt. (Three of the Staten Island ferries were requisitioned by the United States Army for service in the war, but none ever returned to New York harbor.)

Westfield disaster[edit]

Westfield disaster, an 1871 wood engraving

During the 1850s, Staten Island developed rapidly, and the ferry accordingly grew in importance. But the poor condition of the boats became a source of chronic complaint, as did the limited schedule. The opening of the Staten Island Railway in 1860 increased traffic further and newer boats were acquired, named after the towns of Richmond County which covered the whole of Staten Island. One of these ferries, the Westfield, came to grief when its boiler exploded while sitting in its slip at South Ferry at about 1:30 in the afternoon of July 30, 1871 The New York Times described the disaster. Within days of the disaster, some 85 were identified as dead and hundreds injured, and several more were added to the death toll in the weeks following. Jacob Vanderbilt, president of the Staten Island Railway, was arrested for murder, though he escaped conviction. The engineer of Westfield was a black man, which aroused openly racist commentary in New York's newspapers, though Vanderbilt stoutly defended his employee. Victims were never compensated for damages.

B&O Railroad acquires SIRT and ferry operations[edit]

The competing ferry services that were all finally controlled by Vanderbilt were sold to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and operated by the Staten Island Rapid Transit Railroad (SIRT, predecessor to Staten Island Railway) in 1884.

A Kennedy class ferry on its way to Staten Island, New York
A Kennedy class ferry arriving at the Saint George Terminal, Staten Island, New York
The Samuel I. Newhouse, one of two Barberi class ferryboats in the fleet, crosses Upper New York Bay

Northfield accident and city ownership[edit]

On June 14, 1901 the SIRT ferry Northfield was leaving the ferry port at Whitehall when it was struck by a Jersey Central Ferry and sank immediately. There were two full deck crews aboard Northfield and their swift actions ensured that out of 995 passengers aboard, only five ended up missing, presumed drowned. This accident, though minor in comparison to the Westfield Disaster, was seized upon by the City of New York as a justification to seize control of the SIRT ferries, Staten Island now being officially part of New York City, as the Borough of Richmond. Ferry service was assumed by the city's Department of Docks and Ferries in 1905. Five new ferries, one named for each of the new boroughs, were commissioned.

Current operations[edit]

Today the Staten Island Ferry annually carries over 19 million passengers on a 5.2-mile (8.4-km) run that takes approximately 25 minutes each way. Service is provided 24 hours a day, every day. Each day approximately five boats transport about 75,000 passengers during 104 boat trips. Over 33,000 trips are made annually.

During rush hours, ferries usually run every 15- and 20-minute intervals, decreasing to 30 minutes during the mid-days and evenings. During very late or early morning hours (the midnight hours) a ferry is provided once every 60 minutes. During the weekends ferries run every 30 and 60 minutes. In November 2006, additional ferries running every 30 minutes were provided during the weekend morning hours - the most significant change in the ferry schedule for about three decades. The ferries will run at least every 30 minutes 24/7 by May 1st, 2015. [7]

The passenger space of the John F. Kennedy class boat of Staten Island Ferry
Another shot of the John F. Kennedy class boat of the Staten Island Ferry

Current ferry boats[edit]

There are eight ferry boats in four classes currently in service:

The passenger space of “Austen class” ferryboat, used on Staten Island Ferry

Out of service ferry boats[edit]

The three steamboats, completed in 1950 and 1951 at Bethlehem Steel Company’s Staten Island yard, were named Pvt. Joseph F. Merrell, Cornelius G. Kolff and Verrazzano, the last-named an unusual spelling, with a double ‘z’ for the Florentine navigator explorer Giovanni de Verrazano. The trio shared a length of 269 feet, gross tonnage of 2,285, capacity for 106 passengers and a vehicle deck for cars, vans and small trucks. Out-of-service New York ferries have not always ended their careers as ferries. The SS Cornelius Kolff and the SS Private Joseph Merrell, temporarily housed prison inmates for 15 years at Rikers Island. Both vessels were scrapped in 2004. The SS Mary Murray also ended its life as a floating wreck within view of the New Jersey Turnpike.[10] It was partially broken up for scrap in 2008. The MV Governor Herbert H. Lehman, sold at auction by the city in 2008, is currently undergoing renovations at Steelways Shipyard in Newburgh, New York.

Ferry incidents[edit]

There have been some incidents during the Staten Island Ferry's lifetime:

In popular culture[edit]

The ferry appears regularly in television shows about New York City such as Sex and the City and in the opening credits of both Late Night and Late Show with David Letterman. It has been featured prominently in several movies, including the opening credits of the 1988 movie Working Girl. In 2003, the ferry was the subject of the documentary Ferry Tales, which followed the conversations of women in the powder room during the morning commute. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. There was also an original one-act play from "Scenes from the Staten Island Ferry" produced by Sundog Theatre, an Island company that produces new works and provides arts education for schools.

Ferry terminal locations[edit]

The Saint George Terminal on Staten Island

St. George Ferry Terminal is located at 1 Bay Street, Staten Island NY and the Whitehall Ferry Terminal is located at 1 South Street, Manhattan, NY.


  1. ^ "Welcome to the New Staten Island Ferry Termi | Flickr - Photo Sharing!". Flickr. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Matt Flegenheimer (June 28, 2013). "Ferried Between Islands Toward Love and Its Promise". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d, Ferry Terminal description, retrieved February 21, 2011.
  5. ^, retrieved February 21, 2011.
  6. ^ Davidson, Justin, Newsday, April 14, 2005,"At last, welcome to Manhattan!", retrieved February 21, 2011.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Maskaly, Michelle (July 1, 2007). "All ashore for the Lehman ferryboat". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  9. ^ Barry, Keith (4 January 2013). "Staten Island Ferry Goes Green With Natural Gas". Wired. 
  10. ^ Yates, Maura (March 20, 2009). "Owner of beached Staten Island ferryboat Mary Murray dies". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  11. ^ "Tanker Collides With N.Y. Ferry". Los Angeles Times. February 9, 1958. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  12. ^ Blum, Howard (November 8, 1978). "173 Hurt in Staten Island Ferry Crash". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  13. ^ NTSB Report on the May 6, 1981 Staten Island Ferry crash
  14. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (July 8, 1986). "Man with Sword Kills 2 and Wounds 9 on S.I. Ferry". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  15. ^ Barron, James (September 20, 1997). "Long Drive Off Short Ferry Puts Commuter in the Bay". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  16. ^ DAnna, Eddie (July 2, 2009). "Transformer failure caused Staten Island Ferry crash, officials say". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  17. ^ Rosenberg, Chloe; Goldiner, Dave (July 2, 2009). "Staten Island ferry crash at St. George Terminal caused by faulty transformer". Daily News (New York). Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  18. ^ ABC local news interview with a ferry investigator, July 2, 2009.
  19. ^ Chapman, Ben; Nocera, Kate; Kemp, Joe; Lemire, Jonathan (May 8, 2010). "Staten Island Ferry in Fatal 2003 Crash Slams into Terminal Again". Daily News (New York). Retrieved 2010-05-09. 
  20. ^ "A Walk Around Staten Island | Thirteen/WNET". Retrieved 2012-11-18. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°42′05″N 74°00′47″W / 40.70141°N 74.01319°W / 40.70141; -74.01319