New York will soon be getting a city-wide network of ferries that cost no more than a subway ride, but the service will be provided by an out-of-town vendor that will likely sink the local competition, City officials announced Wednesday.
During a press conference yesterday, New York Water Taxi boats floated up to Pier 11, near Wall Street, creating the impression of business as usual. But on nearby Pier 15, near John Street, Mayor Bill de Blasio was announcing that his administration had decided to award the contract for ferry service connecting all five boroughs to Hornblower Cruises, based in San Francisco. “This is a moment that really will make history,” the Mayor said, “because it has been more than a century since this great coastal city has had city-wide ferry service.” He added that the service would debut in the summer of 2017.
Hornblower estimates that its network of 21 stops — ranging from Soundview, on the shores of the Bronx River, to Rockaway, on the Atlantic coast of Queens — will make some 4.5 million passenger-trips each year.
Mr. de Blasio said Hornblower earned the contract because their proposal was simply better than that of New York Water Taxi. (Since 2007, Hornblower has also had a contract with the National Park Service to operate the lucrative ferry service to and from Liberty and Ellis Islands.) But keeping the cost of the City-wide ferry service in line with subway and bus fares (currently $2.75) will entail millions of dollars in public subsidies, a level of taxpayer support that New York Water Taxi says will make it impossible to compete. (The company announced earlier this week that if it lost the contract now awarded to Hornblower, it would likely cease operations in October, eliminating several hundred jobs.)
The possible shutdown of New York Water Taxi could deprive Lower Manhattan residents of an amenity they have come to treasure in recent years: the free, weekend Ikea ferry, which shuttles passengers between the Financial District and Red Hook, Brooklyn. The ferry has long been used by residents as a means of getting not only to and from the furniture retailer, but also nearby restaurants, parks, and shopping destinations.
In a separate, but related development, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wrote on Wednesday to the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the agency that negotiated the new contract with Hornblower, raising concerns about the designation. “No other private ferry service would be able to compete with the $2.75 per ride fare that will be subsidized by the City,” she wrote, adding that, “New Yorkers and tourists alike will surely take advantage of the City-wide Ferry service, making it impossible for an independent company to compete and maintain its existing ridership.”
Ms. Brewer additionally sounded an alarm about the possible impact of Hornblower’s contract on the financially troubled South Street Seaport Museum. “The Museum is currently generating close to $600,000 annually in revenue from the lease that New York Water Taxi has on Pier 16, and the Museum informed my office that they were close to finalizing a new lease that would generate $1 million annually,” she wrote. “This would be a loss of revenue that the Museum could not sustain. Does EDC have a financial plan to prevent the Museum from closing its doors as a result of lost revenue?”
A spokesman for EDC was not available to comment before this issue of the BroadsheetDAILY went to press.