City picks San Francisco-based company to operate ferry service

By Bill Parry

The city has awarded the Citywide Ferry Service contract to San Francisco-based Hornblower Inc. as its operator when the system is scheduled to launch next year bringing ferries to Astoria, Rockaway and South Brooklyn.

The selection ends a year-long competitive procurement by the city’s Economic Development Corporation and officials say Hornblower was selected over other New York and New Jersey based companies “on the basis of its ability to provide the highest quality service at the best value to taxpayers.”

New York Water Taxi, an affiliate of the Durst Organization, which has plied the waters of New York Harbor for the last 15 years, warned its workers last week that it would go out of business by the end of the year if its bid for the contract was denied. In a letter, the company said it could no longer compete for tourists against the Citywide Ferry Service and the free Staten Island Ferry.

“The city is creating a government-subsidized monopoly that will force us out of business, stifle competition and have tremendous leverage against the city in future negotiations,” New York Water Taxi Executive Vice President Peter Ebright said shortly after Hornblower was awarded the contract Wednesday. “Unfortunately, there is a lack of understanding of how we operate and the ferry business in New York Harbor. Today’s decision and comments demonstrate this.”

New York Water Taxi has been running routes between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

City officials point outed that Hornblower has operated in New York Harbor for a decade conducting tours and carries 13 million passengers every year, more than any other private ferry service on the city’s waterways. Hornblower currently employs more than 450 people in New York Harbor and the Citywide Ferry Service will generate at least 155 new jobs.

“Hornblower is honored to take the helm of Mayor de Blasio’s vision for a more integrated transportation network that will make commuting and connecting easier,” Hornblower CEO Terry MacCrae said. “We have already begun work to deliver a ferry system by the summer of 2017 which will revolutionize the way New Yorkers work, live and play, and we are confident this new system will become a local favorite for decades to come.”

As part of the service, Hornblower will be delivering at least 18 new boats, which will be equipped with WiFi and engines that meet the highest EPA standards. All docks and boats will be accessible to people in wheelchairs and fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach) was a skeptic of the city’s selection process, but he called the decision a critical point in the process to bring back a vital service that many Rockaway residents are counting on.

“While I could criticize the decision to go with an out-of-state service provider who has minimal experience in navigating large numbers of individuals in our city waters, I must also work towards a reliable ferry service that is desperately needed by my constituents,” Addabbo, Jr. said. “I intend to keep a watchful eye over the company and the process to resurrect the ferry to ensure my constituents get what they rightfully deserve. As I have stated before, the Rockaway Ferry can only be as successful as its chosen operator allows it to be. The future of transportation in the Rockaways now lies in the hands of the mayor’s administration and its selected operator Hornblower, and we must make sure they run this service adequately.”

The first citywide ferry system in more than a century will be priced at the cost of a single MetroCard swipe, $ 2.75, which is less than current riders of the East River Ferry have been paying. The nearly 4,000 daily riders of the East River Ferry, which will be integrated into the Citywide Ferry Service, pay a one-way fare for $4 during the week and $6 on weekends.

“For the price of a single subway ride, tens of thousands of New Yorkers are going to have a new public transit option linking them to jobs, education and opportunities across the city,” de Blasio said. “It’s going to be a commute like no other: fresh air, harbor views and a fast ride on the open water.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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