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August Economic Snapshot: Ferry Transit in New York City

 |  NYCEDC

edc ferry

By Kristina Pecorelli, Assistant Vice President, Economic and Research Analysis 

A new, affordable means of transportation to waterfront communities in New York City is coming soon...

Citywide Ferry Service! 

With service set to launch in 2017, water transit in NYC is the focus of our August 2015 Economic Snapshot.

History of NYC's Ferries 

Ferry service between Manhattan and what are now Governors Island and Brooklyn dates back to the 1630s.

By 1870, the ferry system in NYC was handling 50 million trips per year, giving rise to what many consider to be the nation’s first commuter suburb in Brooklyn Heights. The late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, witnessed mass construction of bridges, tunnels, and rail lines that made it possible—for the very first time—to travel between Manhattan and the rest of NYC without the use of a vessel. The use of the waterways as a major thoroughfare declined rapidly as a result.

The Fulton Ferry Service, which in 1814 had become the first regularly scheduled steam-driven ferry service between Brooklyn and Manhattan, ceased operations in 1924. For close to two decades during the mid-20th century, the Staten Island Ferry was the sole regularly-scheduled ferry service in NYC.

NYC's Ferries Today

Though less than 1% of workers in NYC cited the ferry as their primary mode of transportation to work in 2013, NYC is home to the highest ferry ridership of any U.S. city.

All told, NYC’s ferry operators transported some 32 million passengers in 2014, with the five new Citywide Ferry Service routes expected to carry an additional 4.6 million trips per year once fully up and running. (To learn more about the ferry routes, click to expand the route map at left.) 

Though a tiny sum in comparison to the subway’s 1.75 billion annual riders, NYC’s waterways handled more passenger trips than LaGuardia Airport in 2014.

aug snapshot figure 1

Snapshot Highlights:

  • There is a positive and statistically significant correlation between proximity to a ferry landing and new construction, particularly residential construction.
  • Men make up a dominant share of ferry riders commuting to NYC for work (59.7% of ferry commuters versus 53.4% of those commuting to jobs in NYC overall). 
  • Both average weekday and average weekend ridership aboard the East River Ferry tend to decline during winter months, though the greater drop-off in weekend ridership suggests that a sufficient share of commuters rely on the service to get to work year-round. 
  • Subway and bus ridership in NYC are also seasonal, with dips in the average number of weekday riders occurring in both the winter and summer months. See Figure III below.

august econ snapshot

Read the August 2015 Economic Snapshot to learn more about New York City's upcoming ferry service.

For all other economic reports, visit our economic data archive on the Economic and Research Analysis page.


Citywide Ferry Service is launching soon! Service will be launched in two phases. The Astoria, South Brooklyn, and Rockaway routes will begin operation in 2017, and the Soundview and Lower East Side routes in 2018. For more information about each route, visit our Citywide Ferry Service page

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