Staten Island Ferry
Learn more about Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry is a passenger ferry operated by the New York City Department of Transportation between Whitehall Street at the southernmost tip of 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 ride takes about 25 minutes each way. The ferry is now free of charge, though riders must disembark at each terminal and reenter through the terminal building for a round trip. Bicycles may also be taken on the lowest deck of the ferry without charge. Most of the ferries are equipped for vehicle transport, formerly at a charge of $3 per automobile; however, vehicles have not been allowed on the Ferry since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
For most of the 20th century, the ferry was famed as the biggest bargain in New York City. It charged the same five cent fare as the New York Subway but the ferry fare remained a nickel when the subway fare increased to 10 cents in 1948. In 1970, then-Mayor John V. Lindsay proposed that the fare be raised to 25 cents, pointing out that the cost for each ride was 50 cents, or ten times what the fare brought in. On August 4, 1975, the nickel fare ended and the charge became 25 cents for a round trip, the quarter being collected in one direction only. The round trip increased to 50 cents in 1990, but then was eliminated altogether in 1997.
There is commuter parking at the St. George Ferry terminal, which is also the terminus of the Staten Island Railway. On the Manhattan side the terminal has convenient access to various bus and subway connections. The ferry ride is a favorite of tourists to New York as it provides excellent views of the Lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
In the 1700s, ferry service between Staten Island and the city of New York (then occupying only the southern tip of Manhattan) was conducted by private individuals with "periaugers," shallow-draft, two-masted sailboats used for local traffic in New York harbor. In the early 1800s, Vice President (and former New York governor) Daniel D. Tompkins secured a charter for the Richmond Turnpike Company, as part of his efforts to develop the village of Tompkinsville; though intended to build a highway across Staten Island, the company also received the right to run a ferry to New York. The Richmond Turnpike Company is the direct ancestor of the current municipal ferry.
In 1817, the Richmond Turnpike Company began to run the first motorized ferry between New York and Staten Island, the steam-powered Nautilus. It was commanded by Captain John De Forest, the brother-in-law of a young man named Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1838, Vanderbilt, who had grown wealthy in the steamboat business in New York waters, bought control of the company. Except for a brief period in the 1850s, he would remain the dominant figure in the ferry until the Civil War, when he sold it to the Staten Island Railway, led by his brother Jacob Vanderbilt. (Three of the Staten Island ferries were requisitioned by the United States Army for service in the war, but none ever returned to New York harbor.)
 Westfield Disaster
During the 1850s, Staten Island developed rapidly, and the ferry accordingly grew in importance. But the poor condition of the boats became a source of chronic complaint, as did the limited schedule. The opening of the Staten Island Railway in 1860 increased traffic further and newer boats were acquired, named after the towns of Richmond County which covered the whole of Staten Island. One of these ferries, the Westfield, came to grief when its boiler exploded while sitting in its slip at South Ferry at about 1:30 in the afternoon of July 30, 1871. Within days of the disaster, some 85 were identified as dead and hundreds injured, and several more were added to the death toll in the weeks following. Jacob Vanderbilt, president of the Staten Island Railway, was arrested for murder, though he escaped conviction. The engineer of the Westfield was a black man, which aroused openly racist commentary in New York's newspapers, though Vanderbilt stoutly defended his employee.
 B&O Railroad acquires SIRT and ferry operations
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, successor to Staten Island Railway) in 1884.
 Northfield Accident and City ownership
On June 14, 1901, the SIRT ferry Northfield was leaving the ferry port at Whitehall when it was struck 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 five ended up missing, presumed drowned. This accident, though minor in comparison to the Westfield Disaster, was seized upon by the City of New York as a justification to seize control of the SIRT ferries, Staten Island now being 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.
 Current operations
Today the Staten Island Ferry annually carries over 19 million passengers on a 5.2 mile (8.4 km) 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.
There are nine ferry boats in four 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, is 297 feet (91 m) long, 69 feet, 10 inches (21.3 m) wide, with a draft of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.1 m), weight of 2,109 gross tons, service speed of 16 knots (30 km/h), and engines of 6,500 horsepower (4.8 MW). The American Legion has been retired after 40 years of service with the acquisition of the Molilnari class ferries. The John F. Kennedyand Herbert H. Lehman remain in service as a back-up ferry and for training purposes.
- 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 (94 m) long, 69 feet, 10 inches (21.3 m) wide, with a draft of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.1 m), weight of 3,335 gross tons, service speed of 16 knots (30 km/h), and engines of 7,000 horsepower (5.2 MW).
- 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 (63 m) long, 40 feet (12.2 m) wide, with a draft of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.6 m), weight of 499 gross tons, service speed of 16 knots (30 km/h), and engines of 3,200 horsepower (2.4 MW).
- the Guy V. Molinari, Sen. John J. Marchi and Spirit of America, known as The Molinari Class, carry a maximum of 4,500 passengers and up to 40 vehicles. Built by the Manitowoc Marine Group in Marinette, Wisconsin, they are designed to recall look and ambiance of the classic New York ferryboats. The first of the three ferries, the Guy V. Molinari, named after a former Borough President of Staten Island, arrived on schedule, September 27, 2004. The third ferry, Spirit of America, was to be put into service on October 25, 2005, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the municipal takeover of the Staten Island Ferry from the B&O railroad. However, mechanical problems on the Molinari class ferries and legal proceedings kept it sidelined at the Staten Island Ferry's St. George maintenance facility until its maiden voyage on April 4, 2006. The Marine Group also will build two similar-sized boats.
Once out of service New York's ferries have not always ended their careers. One was a restaurant in New Jersey. Two others, The Cornelius Kolff and the Private Joseph Merrell, temporarily housed prison inmates for 15 years on Riker's Island. Both vessels were scrapped in 2004.
 Ferry incidents
There have been some incidents during the Staten Island Ferry's official lifetime:
- In 1960, the Dongan Hills was hit by a Norwegian tanker.
- 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 July 7, 1986, a deranged man, Juan Gonzalez attacked passengers with a machete. Two were killed and nine were injured.
- 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 people 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 15:30, 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 in film and television
The ferry appears regularly in television shows about New York City such as Sex and the City and in the opening credits of Late Night with David Letterman. It 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. There was also an original one-act play from "Scenes from the Staten Island Ferry" produced by Sundog Theatre, an Island company that produces new works and provides arts education for schools.
- World Trade Center (2006)
- Presumed Innocent (1990) Assistant District Attorney Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford), is frequently shown traveling between his home on Staten Island and his work in Manhattan. A few revealing scenes take place on the deck of the ferry during his commute, and the ferry is used to segregate his often sordid professional work from his family life.
- Working Girl (1988) Staten Island is prominently featured in Mike Nichols' film starring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Sigourney Weaver. Shooting took place in New Brighton and aboard the Staten Island Ferry.
- The Secret of My Success (1987) In a key scene, Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox) takes his love interest, Christy Wills (Helen Slater) on a romantic Staten Island Ferry ride. Staten Islanders will notice that the ferry takes an unlikely route under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
- The Rutles (1978) A Beatles parody with a Staten Island Ferry scene.
- Who's That Knocking At My Door (1969) A Martin Scorsese film starring Harvey Keitel with a scene shot in the St. George ferry terminal.
- That Kind of Woman (1959) Sophia Loren and Jack Warden dance on the Staten Island Ferry.
- I Love Lucy episode titled Staten Island Ferry (season 5, 1956) - As the Ricardos and the Mertzes prepare for their ocean voyage to Europe, Fred Mertz (William Frawley) struggles gamely but vainly to overcome his chronic seasickness. Lucy (Lucille Ball) suggests that Fred take a trial run on the Staten Island Ferry, and that he fortify himself with seasickness pills. Unfortunately, it is Lucy who develops a bad case of seasickness — and worse still, the pills make her extremely drowsy, just at the moment that she must apply for her passport.
 External links
- NYC Department of Transportation-Staten Island Ferry
- Staten Island Ferry
- Staten Island Ferry Rider's Guide (PDF) from the Staten Island Museum.
- Staten Island ferry on September 11, 2001
- Design and launching of the "Molinari"
- Video from aboard the Staten Island Ferry at Google Videode:Staten Island Ferry