The NYC Economic Development Corporation’s management of funding for the city-run ferry service has come under fire following a damning audit by the New York City Comptroller. Auditors discovered that the cost of operating the ferry was incorrect by $224 million, a large portion of which came from public funds during the fiscal years 2016–2021. According to NBC New York, the EDC did not disclose the quarter-billion-dollar disparity while Bill de Blasio was still mayor of New York City. Auditors blamed ferry operator Hornblower for the under-accounting for rider subsidies, the penalty associated with contract termination, and the excessive payments made.
City Comptroller Brad Lander stated, “This is a very substantial underreporting and mismanagement.” He explained that “They did not insist Hornblower refund the $2.8 million difference between the $8.4 million vessel they paid for and the $5.6 million vessel they received.” However, a Hornblower representative said that the comptroller’s report did not claim that the business had broken any terms of its agreement with the city.
The Hornblower representative stated, “We have continually worked to deliver quality transit options at affordable fares while expanding the ferry system to include more neighborhoods so that taxpayers get the most out of their investment in the city’s transportation system. In fact, Hornblower worked with NYCEDC to return $1 million in scheduled payments from the City while ridership numbers dropped during the pandemic.”
Lander and current NYC Mayor Eric Adams laid some of the blame on former Mayor Bill de Blasio. A representative for Adams remarked that “Concerns around the system’s finances are well known – the prior administration rushed NYCEDC to establish a large and complex ferry system, and we are keenly aware there is room for improvement.” Bill de Blasio, who is now running for Congress said he hasn’t read the comptroller’s report but issued a statement noting that “if there are issues with underreporting at EDC, or by the ferry operators, that should be remedied and whatever accountability or reforms that are needed should be adopted.”
The EDC has agreed to multiple reforms, including the potential hiring of a new ferry operator, which Lander believes might result in increased transparency, more efficient use of public resources, and a better ferry network with perhaps additional routes.