City Council wants ferries using renewable fuels

NYC Ferry vessels will likely have to run on more efficient fuels after the City Council unanimously approves legislation sponsored by City Councilman Costa Constantinides.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Bill Parry

The City Council voted unanimously to pass legislation that requires a two-year study of the feasibility of using alternative fuel in city ferries.

The bill, known as INT. 54, authored by City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), encourages the use of biodiesel and fuel technologies, including hybrid electric and fuel cell electric, instead of petroleum diesel fuels, a major source of harmful air pollution. Standard petroleum diesel fuel exhaust also emits greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.

“Over the past four years, our city has made environmental protection a priority — whether through ending our reliance on fossil fuels, cleaning our air quality, building sustainable transit habits, or encouraging use of renewable energy,” Constantinides said. “INT. 54 will help increase use of renewable fuel in one of our city’s most sustainable transit options — our ferries. As use of our citywide ferry system has grown exponentially, we must innovate the type of energy we use to fuel the boats.”

Another Queens lawmaker has other concerns when it comes to NYC Ferry service. State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) is calling on the city to develop a better system for rescuing passengers from stranded city ferries.

Addabbo demanded action last Thursday after an NYC Ferry struck a sandbar off the Rockaways the night before, leaving dozens of passengers on board in frigid cold, waiting for help.

“We are glad that no one was seriously injured during this incident,” Addabbo said. “However, the city needs to seriously improve their response time in situations like this, where 27 people were stuck out on the water in subfreezing conditions for hours before rescue boats could arrive.”

The 140-foot vessel, named the Flyer, left Rockaway at 5:15 p.m. and was heading to Wall Street when it went off course and became grounded on a sandbar near Beach 201st Street and Rockaway Point Boulevard in Breezy Point, according to investigators. It was the second ferry in a month on the Rockaway route that ran aground, requiring a rescue of passengers.

“I am demanding real answers from the contractor as to why this happened,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters last Wednesday. “It makes no sense to me. These are routes that are well known. The information is there about where there might be any problems along the routes that they have to move around.”

NYC Ferry operator Hornblower suspended the captains of both boats and promised to reimburse the stranded Flyer passengers with year-round ferry passes.

“First and foremost, our focus is always on the safety of our riders, and we truly appreciate the support of the USCG, FDNY and NYPD for their assistance with safely transporting our riders off of the vessel,” Hornblower Senior Vice President Cameron Clark said in a statement.

During the rescue, the stranded passengers were moved from the Flyer to a small fireboat and then moved on to other boats, according to FDNY Chief of Special Operations John Esposito.

“It was difficult because they had to climb down a 12-foot ladder, down the back of the ferry, onto our boat, then transfer onto several different boats,” Esposito said in a statement. “It was a very slow, tedious, time-consuming operation, with safety in mind.”

It took six hours before the rescued passengers were taken ashore at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Addabbo has hailed the NYC Ferry route for helping Rockaway experience an economic rebound this past summer, but in March 2016 he criticized the de Blasio administration’s choice of San Francisco-based Hornblower as the operator, saying that “we must make certain they run this service adequately.”

“This is the second time since Nov. 27 that a NYC Ferry boat crashed into a submerged object, and measures need to be taken to prevent accidents like this from occurring if people are expected to trust and use the city’s ferry system,” Addabbo said. “The city has been lucky that over the recent incidents on the ferry, nobody was seriously injured. I’m hopeful that improved safety measures can be implemented before the city’s luck runs out.”

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

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