Mayor Eric Adams is putting NYC Ferry expansions on ice until city officials can get a better grip on the finances of the cash-churning transportation service.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio grew the maritime transit network to 25 landings across six routes in all Five Boroughs, but Adams wants to anchor plans for any additional berths while his administration gauges how a recent fare hike and an upcoming new operator contract will affect the bottom line, officials with the Economic Development Corporation said Thursday.
“Under the Adams administration we’ve entered a new phase of NYC Ferry, the ‘Ferry Forward’ phase, and we are focused on cost efficiency to ensure NYC Ferry’s long-term sustainability,” EDC’s chief infrastructure officer Joshua Kraus said during a City Council oversight hearing Sept. 22.
“We need to see the effects of the recent changes on the operations and economics of the system. As the system stabilizes over the next few years, we can then evaluate if further expansion makes sense and if so, where,” Kraus said. “But we are not looking to expand the system right now.”
The mayor has been trying to rein in the cost of the boats by bumping the base fare from $2.75 to $4 on Sept. 12 and by looking for new sources of revenue like naming rights, film and TV shoots, concessions, and more onboard ads.
The service, which already swallowed millions in taxpayer dollars, cost the city nearly a quarter-billion more than officials reported and the public subsidy for each $2.75 ride rose to nearly $15 in 2020, according to a bombshell city comptroller’s audit released in July.
In 2021, de Blasio added the St. George route from Staten Island to Manhattan’s West Side, along with an extension of the Soundview route to Throggs Neck in the Bronx.
This year, the city also expanded service to Governors Island year-round.
Another stop for the Coney Island Creek in southern Brooklyn is on hold as the city mulls whether to shift the stop to the ocean side.
The watchdog group the Citizens Budget Commission urged the city to avoid any more “money-losing expansions,” and even cut the lowest-ridership services to get costs under control.
The St. George route — which launched a year ago and departs right next to the iconic and free Staten Island Ferry — has the fewest average daily trips, according to the latest EDC stats.
Council members slammed the city for refusing to chart any new itineraries, and several pols nevertheless asked EDC bigs to add stops to their neighborhoods.
One South Bronx pol noted that the ferry currently largely serves wealthy and whiter areas of the city.
“It does seem like some of the places the ferries are at it’s more affluent neighborhoods and the, I guess, underserved communities are, I feel like, being left out of this conversation,” said Council Member Althea Stevens.
Her district includes Yankee Stadium, and she said the boats could offload some people traveling to and from the ball game.
“I know we would have people using this ferry because I have hundreds and thousands of people who jam up traffic in my district, and this could help relieve some of those things,” the lawmaker said.
NYC Ferry’s executive director James Wong said that land-borne transit like the subways and buses are better suited to carry large crowds, since the boats can only ship between 150-350 passengers.
“Subways in places like game day events and things like that are far more effective in moving big quantities of people,” said Wong.
The Council’s Transportation Committee chairperson Selvena Brooks-Powers urged EDC to add a route heading to LaGuardia Airport, which is one of the alternatives airport officials with the Port Authority have floated instead of the stalled AirTrain.
Wong revealed that they are asking bidders for the new ferry contract, set to take effect at the beginning of October 2023, whether it would be possible to run ferries to the Queens terminals without a public subsidy, which would likely require steeper fares.
“If we’re going to ever consider service that goes to a place like an airport, where people are generally paying quite a bit more to take these air services, we would want to allow a service like this to be considered only if it were done at a market rate and something that actually generates profit for the system,” the ferry chief said.