NYC Ferry mostly used by white, well-off New Yorkers, city data shows
Mayor de Blasio’s heavily-subsidized NYC Ferry service is primarily used by white, upper-middle class people, ridership data released Tuesday shows.
The city’s nonprofit Economic Development Corporation, which runs the ferry network with private cruise company Hornblower, conducted a survey of more than 5,400 riders over a two-week period in May and June. The agency’s analysts determined that 64% of the boat users are white, and that riders’ median annual income falls in the $75,000 to $99,000 range.
That’s a stark difference from those who use the city’s other rapid transit services. A 2017 report from city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office found that two-thirds of subway riders are people of color, and that straphangers’ median income is roughly $40,000 a year.
Since NYC Ferry launched in 2017, De Blasio has touted the network as a much-needed transit option for working-class New Yorkers. Advocates and critics have for years demanded the EDC release an analysis backing up that claim.
Stringer has been one of the ferry’s most vocal critics — in April he attempted to stop the EDC from spending $82 million on new boats for the service. He said Monday that the survey results “show that EDC must do more to ensure the ferry system reaches those who need it the most.”
The new data is the product of the fourth survey the EDC has conducted on ferry riders — the results of the previous three surveys were not made available.
The new findings include ridership data from two NYC Ferry routes that launched last year. The new Soundview route, which offers a connection from a transit desert in the Bronx to lower Manhattan in 46 minutes, is the ferry’s most perse. Two-thirds of its riders are people of color.
“NYC Ferry is bringing together disconnected neighborhoods and helping to get New Yorkers moving," said EDC spokeswoman Shavone Williams. “With booming ridership, it’s clear the service continues to be an undeniable success.”
The “booming” ferry ridership includes 2.5 million trips made this past summer, a record for the service. That’s still less than half of the 5.4 million rides the subway does on an average weekday.
Representatives from the EDC pointed out that the ferry’s per-rider subsidy is declining — the city spent $9.34 per trip in the 12 months ending in June, down from $10.73 per trip the year prior. The subway, on the other hand, receives roughly $1.05 worth of subsidies per rider, according to a report released earlier this year by the watchdog Citizens Budget Commission.
Sean Campion, who authored the CBC report, said that the ferry’s per-trip subsidy may continue to fall into the $7 or $8 range, but questioned why the mayor insists on charging a flat $2.75 fare to ride the boats.
“The reasons why the ferry system is so expensive to operate and requires such a high level of subsidy is two-fold,” said Campion. “One is the operations themselves are really expensive and have a high fixed cost. The second piece is the revenue — the decision to go with a single-priced fare that’s the same as the swipe of a MetroCard keeps the subsidy up.”
Campion said the city would be smart to charge higher fares on weekends and during off-peak periods when fewer people are using the service to commute to work.
Elijah Guo, 30, a freelance tutor from Williamsburg, said he’d be willing to pay a higher fare if it means that taxpayers weren’t being stuck with the difference.
“I’m willing to shoulder the additional cost when it’s available,” said Guo, adding that he has “the luxury to make that choice.”
The EDC’s data shows that a sizable chunk of ferry riders aren’t New York City residents. Roughly 14% of those who float are out-of-towners, including 10% of those who use the service during peak periods.
Despite the high rate of tourists on the boats, some locals who rely on the ferry service see it as an essential commuting option.
“I have a better state of mind after a crazy day of work [when I ride the ferry],” said Karla Perez, 29, who commutes between Soundview and the Upper East Side for work. “It would be nice if we could use our MetroCard other than an additional out-of-pocket cost.”