New York City’s ferry system will not expand in the near future as the city branch that oversees operations seeks to stabilize its finances, officials said at a city council hearing on Thursday.
The oversight hearing was City Council’s first since Comptroller Brad Lander published an audit in July which revealed that the city’s Economic Development Corporation failed to disclose $224 million in ferry-related payments between 2015 and 2021. The EDC is a quasi-municipal agency that monitors the private company that oversees the ferries. Officials said it had begun its search for a new operator, which will begin on October 1, 2023.
“Under the Adams administration, we have entered a new phase of NYC Ferry…and we are focused on profitability, to ensure the sustainability of NYC Ferry,” said Joshua Kraus, Director of Infrastructure at EDC.
“As the system stabilizes over the next few years, we can then assess whether further expansion makes sense, and if so, where,” he continued. “But we are not looking to expand the system at this time.”
Lander’s audit was rolled out to much fanfare at a press conference in lower Manhattan, marring former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s short-lived campaign for the newly drawn 10th congressional district. The ferry system was a flagship initiative of the town hall of de Blasio.
The controller’s audit also called into question “decisions which considerably increased the cost of the city” while largely benefiting the private operator. He specifically cited buying new ferries from the operator at a higher cost.
The comptroller urged EDC to recover $12 million in overpayments from the operator, Hornblower, “a recommendation that EDC categorically refuses to consider,” Lander wrote in a letter introducing the audit.
Ferry officials maintained their decision not to recover these expenses, as requested by the controller.
“We believe we paid the right amount for the services we received,” said James Wong, executive director of NYC Ferry. “We don’t feel the controller understands the contract we have with our operator and the responsibility we have for certain payments.”
But some city council members said they weren’t happy with that.
“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 improve the effectiveness of government,” Council member Nantasha Williams said.