It’s on the itinerary of thousands of tourists a week: A scenic, free ride on the Staten Island Ferry.
They come from across the globe, navigate the ticket hawkers at the Whitehall terminal and hop the ferry for dramatic views of the skyline, Statue of Liberty and more.
With the opening of the Empire Outlets and the New York Wheel on the horizon, the number of tourists headed to our North Shore is expected to skyrocket.
So let’s take advantage of it.
When we rode the ferry recently and asked visitors from foreign lands if they would be willing to pay for the ride, nearly every one said they would.
Some thought a fare as much as $4 or $5 would be acceptable.
When we reported those findings, some commenters on SILive.com voiced support for the idea, too.
BabieBoyBlew stated: “If the city wants to charge tourists I say go for it!
“There should be machines at both ends of the ferry terminal that scan State ID cards. All Staten Island residents should be able to board the ferry for free!
Our (residents of Staten Island) necessary needs for transportation shouldn’t be someone else’s luxury joy ride.”
Herb Lehman stated: “I was dead set against this for awhile, because it would add hassle for regular commuters. ... But the tourists have become such a problem during afternoon rush hour that I’m starting to become open to any idea that might calm things down a little.”
While other commenters were not as supportive and questioned how the money would be spent, the idea deserves a close look, and the mayor says he’s willing to take one.
A study done in 2014 shows the plan has merit.
WHAT TOURISTS SAID
A dozen visiting riders who spoke to the Advance on a recent afternoon said they’d be willing to pay a fare to take the Staten Island Ferry.
“Yeah, doesn’t seem unreasonable,” said Andy Burton, who is from just outside London, England. “It’s quite incredible as it was going away from Manhattan ... one of the most amazing skylines in the world, isn’t it?”
“Yes, definitely!” Marlies Koenen said, echoing three others in a group from the Netherlands. “It’s quick and easy and you see things. It’s nice.”
“It’s good value for your money, isn’t it?” one tourist from Manchester said. “Considering what other people are paying for boat rides. It’s not a bad view.”
Implementing a “tourist-only” fare or a MetroCard swipe for non-borough residents on the ferry would generate millions in revenue for the city, according to a 2014 study.
The ferry has been free for all riders since 1997.
The nonexistent fare and views of the city skyline, New York Harbor and Statue of Liberty were cited as the most compelling reasons for tourists to take the ferry.
But even those who noted the cost — or lack of one — said they would pay a small fare.
“I think you probably would do,” Londoner Olivia Leechman said. “You’ve got to pay for like the East River Ferry we got the other day.”
“I think even if it was just like a couple, two dollars or something like that,” Leechman said.
“I think it’s a good way to get here, it’s free, so that’s good,” said Julia Bohlin, visiting with her family from Sweden, adding she would “probably” pay a fare less than $5.
“You get to see the Statue of Liberty,” Bohlin said.
MAYOR: ’AN INTRESTING IDEA’
Mayor Bill de Blasio said in May that charging tourists to ride the ferry is “an interesting idea.”
The study factored in 1 million additional riders that are estimated to take the ferry to Staten Island for the New York Wheel and Empire Outlets shopping center coming to the North Shore.
The study looked at the impact of a fare over the course of 15 years and includes two payment methods, including a standalone ferry charge for tourists and implementing the MTA’s MetroCard system for all who live outside of Staten Island. The estimated revenue gathered in the study included the installation costs of gates, turnstiles and ticket vending machines.
The study suggests that the proposed MetroCard system will bring in the most money for the city — about $4.5 million a year over 15 years.
Under that method, MetroCard turnstiles would be placed at both Whitehall and St. George terminals and all non-Staten Islanders would be charged to ride the ferry each way. Residents from other boroughs who work on Staten Island would be exempt from the fee.
‘I’LL ASK MY TEAM TO LOOK’
This spring, de Blasio endorsed a proposal for the Metropolitan Museum of Art to charge admission for visitors who live outside the five boroughs. Taxpayers help fund the Met and the city owns the museum’s building in Central Park.
Because of this, the Met has been free for a century and only has a “suggested” admission fee right now. But the museum also faces a budget deficit of about $15 million.
De Blasio told the Advance that the situation at the Met is “different” than the ferry or other cultural institutions.
“But I think it’s a fair question to say should we think about a model that applies in other places. I don’t think there’s any place else quite like the Met,” he said. “But I think it’s a fair question and it’s certainly one I’ll ask my team to look at. I have not thought about it.”
If the idea is implemented — and $4 would be an appropriate fee — it would be up to our elected officials to make sure that the added revenue was directed right back into ferry maintenance and security so it would directly benefit Island commuters.