NYC ferry system must ‘stabilize’ before it can expand, officials say


New York City’s ferry system will not be expanding in the near future as the city arm that oversees operations looks to stabilize its finances, officials testified at a City Council hearing Thursday.

The oversight hearing was the City Council’s first since Comptroller Brad Lander released an audit in July that found the city’s Economic Development Corporation failed to disclose $224 million in ferry-related payments between 2015 and 2021. The EDC is a quasi-city agency that monitors the private company that oversees the ferries. Officials said it has begun its search for a new operator, which will begin on Oct. 1, 2023.

“Under the Adams administration, we have entered a new phase of NYC Ferry … and we are focused on cost-efficiency, to ensure NYC Ferry’s sustainability,” said Joshua Kraus, EDC’s chief infrastructure officer.

“As the system stabilizes over the next few years, we can then evaluate if further expansion makes sense, and if so, where,” he continued. “But we are not looking to expand the system right now.”

Lander’s audit was rolled out with much fanfare at a press conference in lower Manhattan, marred former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s short-lived campaign for the newly drawn 10th Congressional District. The ferry system was a signature initiative of de Blasio’s mayoralty.

The comptroller’s audit also called into question “decisions that added considerable cost to the city” while largely benefiting the private operator. It specifically cited the purchase of new ferries from the operator at a higher cost.

The comptroller has urged EDC to recoup $12 million in overpayments to the operator, Hornblower, “a recommendation that EDC flatly refuses to consider,” Lander wrote in a letter introducing the audit.

Ferry officials stood by their decision to not recover those expenses as urged by the comptroller.

“We believe we paid the right amount for the services we got,” said James Wong, executive director of the NYC Ferry. “We don’t feel like the comptroller understands the contract that we have with our operator and the responsibility we have for certain payments.”

But some City Council members said they were dissatisfied with this.

“I’m just trying to assess whether or not you’re looking at his audit because the purpose of his office is to audit and provide better government efficiency,” said Council member Nantasha Williams.


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