City ferry deal draws scrutiny


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Comptroller Scott Stringer calls for DOT to take charge of heavily subsidized Economic Development Corporation service


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  • The city subsidizes NYC Ferry trips at a ride of $10.73 per ride, a recent Citizens Budget Commission study found. Photo: NYC EDC



“The [EDC]’s contract with NYC Ferry operator Hornblower raises serious questions about the exploding costs and liabilities that the City is choosing to absorb, all while handing over millions in revenue to a private contractor.”

Comptroller Scott Stringer



Mayor Bill de Blasio has touted his administration’s expansion of East River ferry service as an overwhelming success, but the mayor’s signature transportation initiative has drawn criticism in recent weeks for its high costs and contracting process.

NYC Ferry launched service in 2017 and now consists of six routes serving Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. The de Blasio administration has claimed its expansion of East River ferry service is a means of expanding transit options for underserved outer-borough residents, and plans to add two more routes by 2021.

But the initiative has drawn criticism from transportation advocates for its high subsidies and low ridership as compared to other forms of mass transit. The Citizens Budget Commission recently found the administration’s ferry program is subsidized at nearly 10 times the rate of the New York City Transit, despite serving fewer passengers per year than the subway system does each day.

The program is overseen by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which hired the San Francisco-based company Hornblower to operate the service. As reported by the recently launched nonprofit news outlet The City, the EDC’s deal with Hornblower required the city to purchase the boats to be operated by Hornblower. On top of Hornblower’s $168.4 million operating contract, the city also committed to spending $232 million to buy 38 ferries, with another $137 million allocated for future boat purchases.

The EDC selected Hornblower over a competing bid that had a higher price tag for operating costs, but did not require the city to purchase boats.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has called on the city’s Department of Transportation to explore taking over NYC Ferry in light of what he characterized as budgetary and transparency concerns with EDC’s management of the program.

“The Economic Development Corporation’s contract with NYC Ferry operator Hornblower raises serious questions about the exploding costs and liabilities that the City is choosing to absorb, all while handing over millions in revenue to a private contractor — questions that to-date have not been sufficiently answered,” Stringer said in a statement.

The City Council has requested that the administration provide additional financial reporting on the ferry program as part of ongoing budget negotiations.

The mayor dismissed criticism of EDC’s contracting process at an April 4 press conference. “I think it was a smart approach and I think it will prove to be cost effective,” de Blasio said. He added that NYC Ferry should remain under the purview of EDC “for the immediate future [...] because it’s working.”






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