Essential workers continue to crowd on to rush hour subway trains and buses, but across the city mass transit ridership has bottomed out to rates unseen in the modern era. The MTA has reported a 90 percent reduction in subway ridership, and the entire system is now shutting down overnight for cleaning, forcing thousands of homeless people out onto the street. Buses are running at 75 percent capacity, and the Department of Transportation has suspended overnight Staten Island ferry service after an 85 to 90 percent drop in ridership. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s heavily subsidized NYC Ferry routes have also cut service by 30 percent, and are experiencing at least an 80 percent drop in ridership.
According to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the quasi-public agency that operates NYC Ferry, the service is running its smallest, most fuel efficient boats, and is cleaning them thoroughly.
The East River route, the line’s most popular, saw around 6,600 riders a day in the last week of April 2019. This year, it averaged a little over 1,000 per day. With 21 of those routes scheduled for each day, that’s about 47 people per run.
Taxpayers subsidize around $10 per NYC Ferry ride, and 64 percent of ferry riders are white, with a median income ranging between $75,000 and $100,000, according to data released last year by the EDC. Before the pandemic hit, the ferry system cost taxpayers $57 million a year to operate, and was projected to cost another $600 million over the next three years.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that the city’s budget for fiscal year 2021 will need to be pared down by $6 billion in response to the pandemic, and that the ferry program will not be spared. “There will be cuts to NYC Ferry that will certainly be reflected in the next stage of the budget process,” de Blasio told reporters last month.
NYC Ferry was supposed to create two new routes by the end of this year: one that links Coney Island, Bay Ridge, and Lower Manhattan, and another that would run from the St. George terminal in Staten Island to Midtown. The city has not publicly stated whether these new routes will happen under the new budget.
“We’re continuing to look at ways to improve cost-savings and are in active discussions to further reduce costs in anticipation of next year’s budget,” said EDC senior project Chris Singleton, in a statement to Gothamist.
According to a Citizens Budget Commission analysis conducted last year, the Coney Island route would increase the city’s subsidy to $24 per trip—2,257 percent more than what’s allocated to the average subway or bus rider. To date, the de Blasio administration has refused to allocate a dime to help expand the Citi Bike network.
During the last week of April 2019, the entire NYC Ferry system served around 97,000 riders. That same week, Citi Bike logged 568,000 trips.