Staten Island Ferry

From Academic Kids

Lower Mahattan skyline from the deck of the Ferry, 2003
Lower Mahattan skyline from the deck of the Ferry, 2003

The Staten Island Ferry is a passenger ferry operated by the New York City Department of Transportation between Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan near Battery Park (South Ferry) and St. George Ferry Terminal on Richmond Terrace in Staten Island near Richmond County Borough Hall and Richmond County Supreme Court.

The fare for passengers, which had been 50 cents (25 cents until 1990) for a round trip between St. George, Staten Island, and the Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan, was eliminated by 1997; now it is free to anyone who presents themselves at either terminal; there is commuter parking in Staten Island and the St. George Ferry terminal is also the terminus of the Staten Island Railway. On the Manhattan side the terminal is convenient to various bus and subway connections. The ferry ride is a favorite of tourists to New York as it provides excellent views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. The fare for vehicles remains at $3 though vehicles have not been allowed on the Ferry since 2001. Bicycles, however, are allowed on the lower level for free.

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


Somewhat erratic ferry service between Manhattan and Staten Island was started in 1713. The first steam-powered ferry, the "Nautilus," competed with the sail-powered ferry from 1817 and eventually replaced it. The ferry service between St. George and Whitehall provided the nucleus of "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt's fortune. Three of the State Island ferries were requisitioned by the United States Army for service in the Civil War. None were ever returned to New York harbor. The competing ferry services that were all finally controlled by Vanderbilt were sold to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and operated by the Staten Island Rapid Transit Railroad (SIRT) in 1884.

On June 14, 1901 the SIRT ferry "Northfield" was leaving the ferry port at Whitehall when it was stuck by a Jersey Central Ferry and sank immediately. Fortunately there were two full deck crews aboard the "Northfield" and their swift actions ensured that out of 995 passengers aboard, only 5 ended up missing, presumed drowned. The accident was a major reason for the City of New York assuming control, now that Staten Island was 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.

Today the Staten Island Ferry annually carries over 19 million passengers on a 5.2-mile run that takes approximately 25 minutes each way. Service is provided 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Each day approximately five boats transport almost 65,000 passengers during 104 boat trips. Over 33,000 trips are made annually.

A Kennedy class Ferry arriving at the Saint George Terminal, Staten Island, New York
A Kennedy class Ferry arriving at the Saint George Terminal, Staten Island, New York

There are seven ferry boats in three "Classes" currently in service:

  • the John F. Kennedy, the American Legion, and the Governor Herbert H. Lehman, known as The Kennedy Class, built 1965. Each boat can carry 3,500 passengers and up to 40 vehicles, are 297 feet long, 69 feet, 10 inches wide, with a draft of 13 feet, 6 inches, weight of 2,109 gross tons, service speed of 16 knots, and engines of 6,500 horsepower (4.8 MW).
  • the Andrew J. Barberi and the Samuel I. Newhouse, known as The Barberi Class, built 1981. Each boat carries 6,000 passengers and no cars. The boats are 310 feet long, 69 feet, 10 inches wide, with a draft of 13 feet, 6 inches, weight of 3,335 gross tons, service speed of 16 knots, and engines of 7,000 horsepower (5.2 MW).
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The Andrew J. Barberi, one of two Barberi class ferryboats in the fleet, crosses Lower New York Bay
  • the Alice Austen and the John A. Noble known as The Austen Class, built 1986. Each boat carries 1,280 passengers, and no cars. The boats are 207 feet long, 40 feet wide, with a draft of 8 feet, 6 inches, weight of 499 gross tons, service speed of 16 knots, and engines of 3,200 horsepower (2.4 MW).

Once out of service New York's ferries have not ended their careers. One is a restaurant in New Jersey. Two others, temporarily housing prison inmates, are now serving as administration buildings on Riker's Island.

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A young man listens to music while waiting for the Staten Island Ferry in lower Manhattan. The Brooklyn waterfront is visible in the background
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Renovated terminal entrance under construction. May 2005.

On July 4, 2003 Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that first of a new class of boats would be christened in September, 2004. The first of this new class was built by the Manitowoc Marine Group in Marinette, Wisconsin and will be called the Guy V. Molinari after the former Borough President of Richmond County. The Molinari will carry a maximum of 4,500 passengers and up to 40 vehicles and will be available to Ferry riders by the spring of 2005. The Marine Group also will build two similar-sized boats. The "Molinari" arrived on schedule, September 27, 2004. All three boats are expected to be completed and delivered the fall 2004. The three new boats will hopefully only cost $120 million replacing the three Kennedy Class boats, which are scheduled to be retired from service after forty years. The new ferries are designed to preserve the look and ambience of the classic New York ferryboats.

Ferry incidents

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

  • In 1978, the American Legion crashed into the concrete seawall near the Statue of Liberty ferry port during a dense fog. 173 were injured.
  • On May 16, 1981, the American Legion was rammed, again in fog, by a Norwegian freighter.
  • On April 12, 1995 the Andrew J. Barberi rammed its slip at St. George due to a mechanical malfunction. The doors on the saloon deck were crushed by the adjustable aprons, which a quick-thinking bridgeman lowered to help stop the oncoming ferryboat. Several persons were injured.
  • On September 19, 1997, a car plunged off the John F. Kennedy as it was docking in Staten Island, causing minor injuries to the driver and a deckhand who was knocked overboard. (Cars no longer travel on the ferries.)
  • On October 15, 2003, at about 3:30 pm, the Andrew J. Barberi collided with a pier (see 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash) on the eastern end of the St. George ferry terminal, killing eleven people, seriously injuring many others, and tearing a huge slash through the lowest of the three passenger decks. After repairs the Barberi quietly returned to service July 1, 2004.

The ferry appears regularly in television shows about New York City and 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.

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