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NYC Ferry Service Cost $224 Million More to Run Than Reported, Scathing Audit Finds

NBC New York logo NBC New York 7/7/2022 Checkey Beckford
The cost of running the NYC Ferry was off by $224 million dollars, auditors found — much of that taxpayer dollars from fiscal years 2016-2021. © Provided by NBC New York

The cost of running the NYC Ferry was off by $224 million dollars, auditors found — much of that taxpayer dollars from fiscal years 2016-2021.

A scathing audit from the New York City comptroller found that the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s handling of funds for the city-run ferry service has been as murky as the East River itself.

The cost of running the ferry was off by $224 million dollars, auditors found — much of that taxpayer dollars from fiscal years 2016-2021.

"This is a very substantial underreporting and mismanagement," said Comptroller Brad Lander.

The audit found that the EDC, under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio, failed to report the quarter-billion-dollar discrepancy. Auditors placed blame on under-accounting for rider subsidies, contract termination fines and overpayment for vessels to ferry operator Hornblower.

"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," Lander said at a Wednesday press conference.

A spokesperson for Hornblower clarified in a statement that the comptroller's report did not state that the company violated its contract with the city in any regard.

"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," the spokesperson's statement read. "In fact, Hornblower worked with NYCEDC to return $1 million in scheduled payments from the City while ridership numbers dropped during the pandemic.”

The EDC responded to the audit saying, “We believe that relevant data was misrepresented, key facts were misconstrued, or NYCEDC's contractual agreement with the operator of the NYC Ferry was misunderstood.”

Lander placed much of the blame on de Blasio.

"It’s reasonable to guess there was pressure on edc to put forward info that showed a lower subsidy per ride in a way that would be more consistent with the goals that the mayor had laid forward.

A spokesperson for current Mayor Eric Adams also shifted the blame to his predecessor.

“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,” a spokesperson for Adams said.

De Blasio, currently running for Congress, did not address the criticism, saying he hasn’t had a chance to read the full report.

"But 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," a statement from de Blasio read.

The EDC has agreed to several changes, including the possibility of a new ferry operator — something lander says could lead to more transparency, better spending of taxpayer dollars and an improved ferry system with possibly more routes.

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