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City inks deal for NYC Ferry vessels, despite objections

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Comptroller Scott Stringer raised red flags, but the city pushed through the purchase of 16 boats anyway

A NYC Ferry cruising on the East River.
Max Touhey

The city pushed through a controversial deal to spend $84.5 million on larger vessels for its NYC Ferry system, despite objections raised by the city’s chief auditing office, the New York Post reports.

The NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) tried to purchase 19 ferries from Hornblower, the company that operates the ferry under EDC oversight, but was temporarily blocked by Comptroller Scott Stringer after the deal for the heavily subsidized service raised several red flags.

“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,” Stringer said at the time. “All while handing over millions in revenue to a private contractor—questions that to-date have not been sufficiently answered.”

The deal has since gone through with the Comptroller’s office being asked to cut an $82 million check (the remaining $2.5 million will come from EDC) for 16 boats that can shuttle 150 passengers and three that can carry some 350. Transit advocates questioned the multi-million dollar deal for a service that only shepherds 4.1 million riders per year—that translates to roughly two days worth of MTA bus trips—when those funds could be invested in the city’s struggling network of buses.

When the city was first selecting bids to operate the NYC Ferry service, EDC had a chance to go for a bid that wanted $31.5 million more than Hornblower but would have come with its own fleet of ferries from operators New York Waterway, Billybey and New York Water Taxi.

Instead, the city went with Hornblower’s $168.4 million proposal to operate the system for at least five years. The deal may have seemed cheaper at the time but is anticipated to saddle taxpayers with $232 million needed to purchase 38 boats in the near future, and with an additional $137 million earmarked in the city’s budget for future vessels, according to THE CITY’s examination of bidding documents.

Stringer has since pushed for the Department of Transportation to take over operation of the ferry network.