NYC Ferry Accessibility Study

Service Design
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Miro, Survey Monkey, Keynote
Project Type
Service Design

Client: NYC EDC

Role: Communications and Engagement Designer/Design Researcher

What is the NYC Ferry?

The NYC Ferry is a collection of ferry routes seamlessly connecting all five New York City boroughs together. It was established in 2013 and is operated by Hornblower Cruises. It boasts a total of six regular ferry routes, providing scenic water views for passengers to enjoy all year long.


How can we comprehensively understand the experiences of people with disabilities utilizing the NYC Ferry system. This questions comes with the intention to understand the overall accessibility of the NYC Ferry system as a form of consistent transportation for people with disabilities that provides them a comfortable and dignified space.

Project Objective

The objective of the project was to explore 4 different aspects of people with disabilities when navigating using the NYC Ferry as a means of transportation. The first was the establish awareness regarding how riders become aware of the NYC Ferry system, fares, and accessibility possibilities. The second aspect focused on understanding the challenges riders encounter in accessing and utilizing the NYC Ferry as a regular transit choice, along with any associated concerns. The third objective was to uncover the advantages that commuters with disabilities seek while using the NYC Ferry, as well as their aspirations for the service. Lastly, identifying how riders felt while using NYC Ferry and how welcoming this experience is to someone with disabilities was vital in identifying the overall experience of using the ferry as a person with disabilities.


We adopted a "Service Safari" approach to  observe how riders with disabilities undergo journeys on NYC Ferry. This method allowed a researcher to focus on the participant's experience throughout the journey of the service. We accompanied a total of 10 riders individually, from ticket purchase to reaching their destination station in-person. Utilizing interview questions, observations, and visual documentation, we captured the commuting experience, identifying both positive aspects (e.g., useful accessibility features, convenience, preferred Ferry elements) and challenges (e.g., pain points, missed opportunities, accessibility hacks) from the riders' perspective.  To supplement the "Service Safari", created a digital survey for participants enrolled in the NYC Ferry's disability discount program. This allowed for a larger sampling of riders. The survey focused on key accessibility and experience aspects such as ticket purchasing methods, awareness of applicable discounts, and the incentives or barriers influencing their preference for NYC Ferry as a mode of transportation.


Riders noted that being a person with disabilities is often a lonely journey and expressed a need for increased visibility during their NYC Ferry journeys, constantly feeling isolated and unnoticed. Participants also noted that the ferry crew members are primarily concerned with keeping the service on schedule, creating tension between time and care. This creates a tension between efficiency and the additional time people with disabilities need to navigate the system. Despite the initial learning curve, riders enjoy the ferry experience, emphasizing its spaciousness and convenience. Expecting integration with familiar transit systems like the MTA, riders also seek independence, highlighting the importance of the physical, informational, and personal infrastructure provided by NYC Ferry for increased autonomy for people with disabilities traveling via the ferry.

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