Adding Insult to Penury
Ridership Survey Indicates That Ferry Coming Soon to Battery Park City Primarily Serves Affluent Riders
An analysis of who uses the NYC Ferry service, which the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to expand to Battery Park City next year, shows that riders are primarily white passengers who earn more money than average New Yorkers.
The NYC Ferry 2019 Summer Survey was released earlier this month released by the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which manages the service in partnership with a private operator, Hornblower. It documents that “36 percent of riders identify as non-white or multiracial,” which means that 64 percent of riders are white.
The same report notes that, “35 percent of riders make less than $75,000 per year,” which indicates that 65 percent earn more than that amount, while also showing that ferry users’ “median income [is] between $75,000 to $99,999.” For New York City as a whole, the median individual income is $50,825, according to U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013-2017 American Community Survey. This implies that a typical NYC Ferry rider earns 50 to 100 percent more than a representative resident of the five boroughs.
These demographics may hinge largely on geography. NYC Ferry passengers often inhabit waterfront neighborhoods that are either historically fashionable or rapidly gentrifying. Residents living within half a mile of a NYC Ferry stop and earning more than the City’s median income outnumber those living inside the same radius, but earning less than the City-wide median, by a margin of more than six to one.
Such statistics may also raise questions about the massive taxpayer subsidies the NYC Ferry service receives, as well as reservations about the influx of riders likely to descend upon the already-crowded Battery Park City ferry terminal, once a planned expansion of the service (connecting Staten Island to the Lower West Side of Manhattan, and then to the West Side of Midtown) is inaugurated in 2020.
According to a separate report, released in March by the independent Citizen’s Budget Commission in March, “at $10.73 per ride, its operating subsidy is ten times that of the New York City Transit system. Furthermore, NYC Ferry transports fewer people annually than the subway transports in one day.” That report also notes that five times greater than those accorded to the Staten Island Ferry (which is free), and that this support is poised to become more lavish once the NYC Ferry system launches new routes next year: ” the recently announced expansion of service will require even greater public subsidies — reaching as much as $24.75 per ride for the Coney Island route,” which is slated to launch in tandem with the Battery Park City route. This level of public support buys NYC Ferry passengers a more comfortable commute than the subway can offer, with amenities like the onboard availability of food and alcohol, wireless internet connectivity, and a breathtaking view.
The proposed Staten Island route raises several other questions that will likely be of interest to Lower Manhattan residents. The Battery Park City Ferry Terminal has been the focus of noise complaints by residents for years, and these concerns have escalated as the terminal has seen greater, more frequent use. Apartment dwellers closer than 100 yards to the terminal regularly attend meetings to Community Board 1 (CB1) to air grievances about small children who are awakened at 6:00 am by ferry horns designed to be heard more than one mile away, which are sounded by departing boats every few minutes.
The proposed Staten Island route of NYC Ferry is slated to bring to the Battery Park City ferry terminal more than 60 new vessels each day, landing from 6:00 am to midnight, and carrying as many as 2,500 passengers per day. But in 2017, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which owns and manages the terminal) began allowing sightseeing boats to operate from the facility. More recently, the Port Authority has expanded weekend ferry service between New Jersey and the Battery Park City terminal, in order to offset Saturday and Sunday closures (for the next two years) of the PATH trains between the World Trade Center complex and Jersey City, needed to repair damage to the tunnels beneath the Hudson River sustained during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Adding a new fleet of commuter boats, serving Staten Island, to this mix may exacerbate an already strained situation.
Counterbalancing these concerns are questions about how fully Richmond County commuters will embrace the new route, when the existing Staten Island Ferry (which lands at South Street) offers a competing option at no charge. The NYC Ferry version is being touted as faster — by about seven minutes for the water-borne part of the trip, with an average of 12 additional minutes saved for commuters who then walk to offices in Lower Manhattan. (Staten Island residents commuting to Midtown would typically save a total of 40 minutes, according to the EDC.) That noted, the NYC Ferry from Staten Island will not be free. It is scheduled to be priced at $2.75 — the same as a subway or bus fare. But unlike the City’s subway and bus systems, NYC Ferry offers no free transfers to other modes of transit. This could have the effect of doubling the cost of a daily commute for any rider who needs to board a subway or bus after disembarking from the ferry.
In June, CB1 enacted a resolution noting (among other objections) that, “additional ferry service in Battery Park City will create additional foot traffic to and from Brookfield Place and the PATH station, which will affect the free circulation of residents” and “ferry operation is noisy and the addition of more departure announcements, gunning engines, and departure sounds will further diminish the quality of life of Battery Park City residents who live within a short distance from the pier.”
The resolution concluded with a call for a full environmental review before implementing the EDC’s plan, which should include, “studies on the previously mentioned impacts on circulation of resident traffic around Battery Park City, sound pollution, impacts on air quality, impacts on water quality, and impacts on the long-term structural health of the Battery Park City bulkhead.” It also urged that, “EDC delay commencement of service of the Staten Island route until the World Trade Center PATH tunnels are completely renovated and normal weekend PATH train service resumes.”
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