Did you know that ferry service between Manhattan and Staten Island first began in 1713?
Almost two centuries after Italian explorer Giovanni Da Verrazzano first sailed to the area in 1524, the first chartered boat service between Staten Island -- formerly called Staaten Eylandet by the Dutch -- and Manhattan was established, in 1713. Early passenger transportation between the locations was infrequent and erratic, but by 1817 the first steamboat traversed the harbor, providing faster service more often and more reliably.
As the only means of transportation between the two islands, ferry service expanded over the years as the area witnessed increases in population and commerce. When the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad acquired the service route in 1884, several ferry lines were navigating the 6.2-mile stretch between the areas known today as Lower Manhattan's Battery Park and St. George's terminal in Staten Island.
In 1905, the City of New York decided to regulate the service and assumed control of the Staten Island ferry system. Under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT), the city implemented large-scale changes, replacing steamboats with large, diesel-powered vessels that could carry as many as 6,000 passengers and provided room to transport automobiles.
The completion of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964 prompted an influx of new residents and industries to Staten Island. Despite the additional access way to the island, the increased number of commuters kept the demand for ferry service steady. By 1990, an average of 70,000 passengers traveled the 25-minute ferry route between Manhattan and Staten Island.
On July 4, 1997, the city eliminated the 50-cent roundtrip ferry fare, making it free of charge to commuters and visitors who wish to ride any one of seven vessels in the city's operating fleet. Today, the Staten Island Ferry service remains free of charge, offering picturesque views of the New York harbor, Statue of Liberty, and Lower Manhattan 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Cars, however, are currently prohibited by a city restriction against the transportation of vehicles in the ferry's cargo hull, in place since 2001.
According to the NYC DOT, the orange-clad ferry fleet is scheduled to be updated beginning in 2004, with three new boats being phased in to replace three older ones. While no information about the fate of the retired ferries has been given, older boats have been sold at auction or passed on to other city agencies in the past. In fact, one ferry was purchased by a New Jersey man who turned it into a restaurant, and two went to Rikers Island to house inmates. Currently, they are used as administration buildings on the island.
For more coverage of the Staten Island Ferry on LowerManhattan.info, click here.