The Staten Island Ferry: Is the free fare worth the price?


Credit: @thestatenislandferry on Instagram

Gia Sparacino, Features Editor

Nothing puts spunk in your step like the wind in your hair, the smell of low tide and a person named Jessica offering their explicit services in exchange for a singular, crisp one-dollar bill. One dollar more than it costs to experience all the luxuries the Staten Island Ferry has to offer. 

With a quick 25-minute trip across the Hudson, you could land yourself in—depending on who you ask— New York City’s fifth and finest borough, also known by many as the “forgotten borough.” Personally, every experience I have had in Staten Island thus far has been unforgettable, so I might have to disagree with that popular nickname.

A Quick History Lesson

Founded by Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Staten Island Ferry has rich roots dating all the way back to 1817. It was originally used to transport fish, produce and other goods from Manhattan to Staten Island, but eventually came to be one of the most popular free ferry routes used in New York City, transporting approximately 25 million passengers every year. For a brief period in the 1980s until the late 1990s, two Staten Island ferry boats were commissioned to house prisoners overflowing from Rikers Island off the coast of the Bronx, showing just how versatile that burnt orange backdrop can be. 

The fare to ride the Staten Island Ferry was always quite cheap, charging a measly 50 cents to ride before changing the fare to be free of cost for riders in 1997. Today, I am here to tell you if it’s worth the price to ride.

May The Games Begin

I headed over to the terminal ten minutes early to ensure that I could board seamlessly and snag a seat outdoors to enjoy the beautiful autumn weather. Upon my arrival, I was joyfully greeted by Jessica, whom I mentioned earlier, offering me their services, which I politely declined by avoiding eye contact and speeding to the nearest seat. On the “Manhattan end” of the Ferry, they had a lovely seating area made up of stone chairs, some sitting with mysterious liquids of all colors and textures. I chose one of their drier options.

I was sitting reading my book waiting for the boat’s arrival to be announced when it happened. The surge of bodies rushing to the now open doors. I couldn’t tell if it better resembled Black Friday or “The Hunger Games,” but either way, I was in it to win. I shoved my book in my tote, swung my duffle on my back and hauled ass into the crowd, weaving in and out of families and definitely accidentally bodying some future riders along the way. After two flights of stairs and a brief asthma attack later, I had finally boarded and found a seat outdoors on the upper level of the ferry. As we took off, I looked back at the beloved island I was leaving behind and blew a kiss in “Titanic” fashion. I wasn’t yet sure if I would see her again.

The Love Boat

Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was the bright orange seats. And walls. And floors. And I loved it. Maybe I’m looking at this through rose-colored glasses, but I found the color to be more of an “Orange Is The New Black” chic and honestly camp instead of the tacky tanning-booth tangerine that many patrons referred to it as (and looking around, I could see many riders were quite familiar with tanning booths). Plus, everyone is aware of the ferry’s history with felons, so I found it extra charming. 

But it was when we took sail that the real magic settled in. I took the 7 p.m. ferry over giving me the perfect opportunity to look out over the water and enjoy the beautiful New York City skyline layered over a glorious sunset. The water reflected each orangey, pinkish, purplish, bluish color-soaked across the sky. Families leaned over the railings in awe, pointing out skyscrapers and other landmarks as we sailed by.

The breeze was refreshing, combing subtly through your hair rather than whipping around you like you’re trapped in a wind tunnel. Couples held hands and laughed, taking photos of the view and each other. And then I saw her: Lady Liberty in all her glory. As a true pretentious New Yorker born and raised, I had never been even remotely close to the Statue of Liberty, writing it off as a cheesy tourist attraction, putting it up on the tacky shelf next to Times Square and the Empire State Building. But seeing the Statue of Liberty so close (and for free) was honestly euphoric. 

Mentally adding it to the list of the things I can casually mention to Non-New Yorkers as a subtle flex, I took one final glance out over the sparkling waves, snapped a quick picture for Instagram and went straight on my phone. And would you look at that, even halfway across the water, I still had service. Score.

Farewell Sweet Lover

As the ferry docked, the pace to deboard resembled more of a slow trickle, in contrast to the tsunami meets apocalyptic war zone during the boarding process. Everyone took their sweet time to bid adieu to the orange benches and sticky railings and took one last look over the Hudson. My exit was swift, the crowd moving steadily with little stop-and-go traffic. 

At last, I had arrived. My journey had come to an end and I had come out victorious.

Final Thoughts

Okay, hear me out. I’m going to say it—I love the Staten Island Ferry. Sure, she has her quirks, as do we all, but at the end of the day, the Staten Island Ferry is such an easy, fun and affordable activity to do with family, friends or even a significant other. 

It’s free, the view is beautiful, it has a pleasant atmosphere, it’s free, it’s not too long of a ride, and best of all—it’s free! I could ride that baby back and forth all day and night without spending a dime, and that alone, is attractive. That’s another thing I forgot to mention. The ferry comes and goes in 30-minute increments and runs 24 hours a day. No need to worry about scheduling or rushing to catch the last one that leaves for the night. 

Molinari. Barberi. Austen. Kennedy. I’ll never forget you and hope to ride you again soon.