In the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, private ferry company NY Waterway proved a lifesaver for 65,000 commuters as highway and rail access between New Jersey and Manhattan was cut off ["Do You Believe in Ferries?" March 2003]. Now, the once successful ferry service is in financial trouble. The operation is in debt to the tune of $53 million, and is losing about $500,000 a week.

NY Waterway's troubles raise questions about whether a private company should receive government funds to stay in business. Private ferries make only a tiny splash in the mass transit system that moves millions of commuters each day. And, they're expensive: Roundtrip tickets start at $6.

Local government leaders seem to want to help the company survive. The mayors of Weehawken, Hoboken and Jersey City, among others, asked the Hudson County Improvement Authority to look into acquiring NY Waterway. Various proposals are on the table to try to maintain the company's routes, with a rival ferry company and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey talking about possible solutions.

Advocates for the waterfront are adamant that ferry services be saved. "They get people off the roads and reduce overcrowding in subways," says Alan Gentile of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. "Look at September 11 and the blackout--ferries filled the void."