Ferry Operators

Ferry or water taxi operations are defined as those that: (1) have fixed routes between two or more different ports of call (an origin and destination), (2) provide service on a fixed schedule or on demand within a fixed window of time, (3) are common carriers meaning that they serve the general public at reasonable rates and without discrimination, and/or (4) are railroad car float operations that utilize a tug and barge combination.
Ferries are operated in the United States for a variety of reasons and can be thought of as an extension of the highway system by water. The 2018 NCFO reports that commuter transit (67.4 percent) and transportation for pleasure/recreation (65.2 percent) are the two most common purposes for ferry trips. Other reported trip purposes include roadway connections, emergency services, lifeline service (island access to mainland), and travel to and around a National Park.

Operational Trip Purpose

Of the 181 responding ferry operations, New York (15), Washington (15), and California (14), reported the largest total number of operations for calendar year 2017.

Ferry Operators by State

Map of ferry operators by state
A total of 80 ferry operations (out of the 181 responding operations) reported on behalf of a federal, state, or local government agency. The remaining 101 operations are identified as private operations. Of the 43 known operations that did not respond to the 2018 NCFO, 9 are identified as public operations and 34 as private operations.
Of those ferry operations that did not respond to the 2018 NCFO, all were geographically concentrated on the east coast. The non-response rate for the Virgin Islands was 56 percent. This low response rate was likely due to Hurricane Irma, which landed in 2017, causing ferry operations to close temporarily or cease operations. Other States with high within-State non-response were Florida (46.2 percent), Massachusetts (41.2 percent), and Michigan (33.3 percent). All non-respondent ferry operations from these States were privately owned and operated.

Non-Response Operators by State

Of the 181 operations that responded to the 2018 NCFO, the majority (80.1 percent) reported that their revenue came, at least partially, from ticket sales.  A total of 56.9 percent of ferry operators reported ticket sales to be between 75 to 100 percent of their total revenue. Operations reported a relatively small amount of public contract revenue (12.2 percent), federal funding revenue (13.8 percent), and local funding revenue (14.9 percent). While a relatively high number of operators (31.5 percent) reported that they receive private contract revenue, the majority reported it to be less than 25 percent of their total revenue. The smallest source of reported funding came from advertising revenue (7.2 percent).

Percentage of Operational Revenue by Funding Source

figure displaying revenue source for ferry operators

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For questions about this data or its use, please contact us at: ferry@dot.gov