The new city-wide ferry system, scheduled to launch in summer 2017, has been lauded for creating 150 new jobs and spurring development in places like Astoria where it will shuttle the neighborhood’s transit-challenged residents to Manhattan for the cost of a MetroCard swipe. But will an unrealistic time frame and poor management choices and planning cause the Mayor’s ambitious ferry plan to run aground? Maritime industry insider Tom Fox explains his concerns in an op-ed for Crain’s.
Fox, who is the founder of New York Water Taxi, a past president of international ferry trade association Interferry, and a board member of the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association, believes oversight of municipal ferries should be in the hands of the Department of Transportation, with a ferry division whose maritime professionals have years of experience at the job. Instead, the Economic Development Corporation was chosen to lead the project and negotiate with the chosen bidder, California-based Hornblower Cruises, which, he notes, “runs tour boats and dinner cruises in the harbor but has no commuter-ferry experience and no ferries.”
More maritime knowledge should be required to make the important decisions in the ferry plan. For example, the project’s timeframe: “The citywide service is supposed to start next June with nine new ferries. How will that be possible?” His concern is that “With no experienced shipyards or proven marine engines available, EDC and the vendor will use three inexperienced yards to build the vessels and buy engines from France that have never been used commercially in the Americas.” The result could be a fleet with production woes, a short life span and high operating costs.
There is also the concern that the success of the current East River Ferry will be jeopardized. EDC bought the current operator out of their contract and replaced them with the new vendor, but boats being built may be too small to service the route during busy times, like summer weekends, when current ferries are often filled to capacity.
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