Is The Staten Island Ferry Still Free In 2023?

The Staten Island Ferry has provided free commuter transportation between Staten Island and Manhattan for over a century, but could rising costs and budget cuts change that? This article will provide a comprehensive look at the past, present, and future of fares on the iconic orange ferry boats.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, the Staten Island Ferry still offers free rides as of 2023. Budget pressures and proposals to charge a fare have surfaced intermittently, but so far Staten Island riders have avoided paying thanks to political support for the free rides.

History of the Staten Island Ferry Fares

The Staten Island Ferry, one of New York City’s most iconic transportation options, has a fascinating history when it comes to fares. Let’s take a closer look at how the fares have evolved over the years.

Original private operators charged fares

When the Staten Island Ferry first started operating in the late 19th century, it was run by private operators who charged fares for the service. At the time, the fare was a mere five cents, which was quite affordable for most passengers.

However, as the popularity of the ferry grew, so did the demand for the city to take control of the operation.

Takeover by NYC Department of Docks brought free rides

In 1905, the New York City Department of Docks took over the operations of the Staten Island Ferry and made a significant change – they made the ferry rides free for all passengers. This decision was met with great enthusiasm from the public, as it made commuting between Staten Island and Manhattan much more accessible for everyone.

The free rides became an integral part of the city’s transportation system and have remained so for decades.

Brief period of charges from 1997-1998

However, there was a brief period in the late 1990s when fares were reintroduced on the Staten Island Ferry. In 1997, due to financial constraints, the city began charging a fare of 50 cents for each ride.

This decision was met with resistance from the public, who had grown accustomed to the free rides. Fortunately, this fare was only in place for a year, and in 1998, the ferry once again became free for all passengers.

Since then, the Staten Island Ferry has continued to provide free rides to millions of commuters and tourists every year. It remains one of the most popular and beloved modes of transportation in the city, offering stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.

Effects of Eliminating Free Ferry

Increased travel costs for tens of thousands

The elimination of free ferry service in Staten Island would have a significant impact on the daily commuters who rely on this transportation option. With an estimated tens of thousands of people using the ferry each day, the cost of daily travel would become an additional financial burden for many residents.

This could potentially lead to reduced disposable income for these individuals and families, impacting their overall quality of life.

Traffic increases on bridges and tunnels

The Staten Island Ferry has long served as an alternative mode of transportation for those looking to avoid the heavy traffic on bridges and tunnels connecting Staten Island to the rest of New York City.

By eliminating the free ferry service, the number of vehicles on these alternate routes would likely surge, leading to increased congestion and longer travel times for commuters. This would not only inconvenience those who rely on these routes but also have a negative impact on the overall traffic flow in the region.

Loss of iconic free service

The Staten Island Ferry has become an iconic symbol of the city, offering residents and tourists alike a unique experience and breathtaking views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. The elimination of the free ferry service would not only be a loss for those who rely on it for their daily commute but also for those who appreciate its cultural and historical significance.

The ferry has been a staple of Staten Island’s identity and removing this free service would undoubtedly be met with disappointment and resentment from the community.

Arguments Around Reinstating Fares

Budget deficits and high subsidy per ride

One of the main arguments for reinstating fares on the Staten Island Ferry is the issue of budget deficits and the high subsidy per ride. As of 2023, the cost of operating the ferry has been steadily increasing, putting a strain on the city’s budget.

With the ferry being free for passengers, the burden of funding its operations falls entirely on taxpayer dollars. By reintroducing fares, the city can alleviate some of the financial pressure and ensure a more sustainable funding model for the ferry service.

According to a report by the New York City Independent Budget Office, the subsidy per passenger for the Staten Island Ferry is significantly higher compared to other forms of public transportation in the city.

This means that the cost of each ride is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, which raises questions about fairness and efficiency. Reinstating fares would help reduce the subsidy per ride and distribute the cost more equitably among the ferry users.

Precedents set by other transit fares

Another argument in favor of reinstating fares on the Staten Island Ferry is the precedent set by other transit fares in New York City. The majority of public transportation options, such as buses and subways, require passengers to pay a fare for their services.

This consistency in fare collection across different modes of transportation creates a sense of fairness and uniformity.

Moreover, introducing fares on the Staten Island Ferry would align it with the broader transportation system and promote a more integrated and sustainable transit network. It would also bring the ferry service in line with other major ferry systems around the world that charge fares for their services.

Alternatives like higher-income surcharges

While the idea of reinstating fares on the Staten Island Ferry may seem unfavorable to some, there are alternative solutions that could be explored. One such alternative is implementing higher-income surcharges, where passengers with higher incomes pay a slightly higher fare compared to those with lower incomes.

This approach can help address concerns about fairness and ensure that the burden of ferry funding is distributed proportionally. Additionally, it could generate additional revenue without placing a heavy financial burden on low-income passengers.

It is worth noting that the arguments presented here are part of an ongoing debate surrounding the Staten Island Ferry’s fare policy. Ultimately, the decision to reinstate fares or explore alternative funding options will depend on various factors, including financial considerations, public opinion, and the overall goals of the city’s transportation system.

Political and Legal Status of Free Fares

The question of whether the Staten Island Ferry will remain free in 2023 has sparked debates among politicians and legal experts. Staten Island politicians have united in opposition to any potential changes to the current fare policy.

They argue that charging for ferry rides would place an undue burden on the residents of Staten Island, who heavily rely on the ferry for their daily commute.

Staten Island politicians unite in opposition

Staten Island politicians, regardless of their party affiliations, have come together to express their strong opposition to the possibility of eliminating free fares on the Staten Island Ferry. They believe that charging for ferry rides would be a disservice to the residents of Staten Island, who have been enjoying this free service for decades.

The ferry serves as a vital transportation link between Staten Island and Manhattan, and any changes to the fare structure would have a significant impact on the daily lives of thousands of commuters.

The united front presented by Staten Island politicians sends a clear message to decision-makers that the community stands firmly against any changes to the current fare policy. Their advocacy for continued free fares highlights the importance of the Staten Island Ferry as a public transportation option that should be accessible to all residents, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

1997 law mandates free service continue

One crucial factor supporting the continuation of free fares on the Staten Island Ferry is a law passed in 1997. The law, known as the Staten Island Ferry Revitalization Act, mandates that the service must remain free of charge.

This legislation was enacted to ensure that the ferry would serve as an affordable transportation option for Staten Island residents, who often face higher commuting costs compared to those living in other parts of the city.

The 1997 law reflects the recognition of the unique circumstances and transportation needs of Staten Island. It acknowledges the geographic isolation of the borough and the reliance of its residents on the Staten Island Ferry as a lifeline to the rest of the city.

By legally mandating the continuation of free fares, the government has demonstrated its commitment to providing equitable transportation options for all New Yorkers, including those living in Staten Island.

It is important to note that while the political and legal status of free fares on the Staten Island Ferry is currently secure, it is always subject to potential changes in the future. However, based on the strong opposition from Staten Island politicians and the existing legislation, it is unlikely that free fares will be eliminated in 2023 or in the foreseeable future.


For now, the free fares on the Staten Island Ferry seem secure thanks to the promises of local politicians, but the periodic proposals to add fees will likely continue as long as budgets remain tight. Still, charging for the iconic free ride would come with many downsides for commuters and the city.

The orange boats will hopefully keep sailing sans fees for years to come.

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