Environmentally Friendly Transportation: Ferries

Ferries have existed in New York State since the arrival of steamboat technology in the late 19th century, and continue to provide both commuter and excursion services. A number of public-private partnerships support ferries in the state, making it unique within New York’s public transportation system. Ferry service are particularly concentrated in and around New York City, where the following lines currently exist:

  • The Staten Island Ferry, operated by the DOT, holds free service between Manhattan and Staten Island
  • NYC Ferry, operated by Hornblower, connects Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx
  • The Trust for Governors Island runs summer ferry routes between Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Governor’s Island
  • Liberty Landing Ferry operates between the World Financial Center and Jersey City, NJ
  • New York Waterways runs between New Jersey and Manhattan
  • NY Water Taxi operates ferry service between Manhattan and Red Hook, Brooklyn
  • Seastreak runs ferries between Monmouth County in New Jersey and NYC
  • Statue Cruises operates tourist and excursion services to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Immigration Museum
  • Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises offers tours around Manhattan

Ferry service provides numerous benefits for both commuters and the environment. Accessible, affordable public transportation decreases commuters’ reliance on cars, cutting their travel expenses and carbon footprint. In New York State, transportation-related emissions account for a third of total state emissions each year. Motor vehicles alone in NYC contribute roughly 11% of local particulate matter pollution and 28% of nitrogen oxide emissions. Providing opportunities for commuters to avoid their cars can improve New York’s air quality. Congestion has also been building in NYC: the average travel speed in Manhattan is the slowest that it has been in decades, down from 9 miles per hour in 1990 to 7 miles per hour in 2019. The 2019 New York City Mobility Report states that while ferry commuting is the preferred method of transit for 0.2% of New Yorkers, the number of commuters is rising with increased and faster service, line service extensions, and marketing campaigns. Currently, there are 127,000 daily ferry riders across all lines.

However, ferry service is not environmentally risk-free. In NYC, NO2 levels in open areas near ferry terminals are more than 50% above the standard established by the EPA. In a 2016 review of the ferry system, Economic Development Corporation spokesperson Ian Fried said that the additional pollutants would not negatively impact the city as a whole, because ferry ridership gets New Yorkers out of their cars and trucks.