Despite the coronavirus-fueled budget crisis, Mayor Bill de Blasio went ahead with spending $62 million on new boats for the city’s lightly used and heavily subsidized East River ferry system, The Post has learned.
The decision to go ahead with the purchase of eight more vessels for NYC Ferry — a pet project of the mayor’s — came to light after Comptroller Scott Stringer attempted to block the spending, only to have City Hall override him in June.
“As our city battles a financial crisis and services for vulnerable communities are put on the chopping block, I seriously question spending millions of additional taxpayer dollars on ferry vessels, when the program does not effectively serve a broad range of New Yorkers,” Stringer said.
The boats were originally ordered in 2019 — months before the pandemic hit — as part of the $637 million that the city has spent so far on building an East River ferry network.
However, city officials went ahead with the purchase and payment after the coronavirus pandemic hit, all while rolling out massive cuts to other agencies — including a $1.5 billion pot to the NYPD — in a bid to tackle a $9 billion budget shortfall.
As part of the cutbacks, the Economic Development Corp. touted adjustments to the ferry service that they said would reduce the subsidy by 20 percent from $54 million during the most recently completed budget.
However, the documents City Hall provided to the comptroller show it will still cost $44 million alone during this upcoming budget year.
Ridership was down 80 percent during the last week in April as the COVID-19 outbreak lashed the five boroughs, ultimately killing more than 22,000 New Yorkers and forcing the shutdown of the city’s economy.
“How does the mayor justify this sort of spending on a system that moves so few people, especially at a time when he’s taking away millions from New Yorkers who ride buses and bikes,” asked an enraged Danny Harris, who runs straphanger and transit activist group, Transportation Alternatives.
NYC Ferry is Mayor de Blasio’s signature transportation initiative, but the program has been roundly criticized for requiring massive operating subsidies and catering to a posh ridership — despite Hizzoner’s repeated claims it’s helping to build a more fair city.
“The NYC Ferry is a popular, reliable transit option that connects New Yorkers of all backgrounds with job centers across the city,” said City Hall spokesman Mitch Schwartz. “To meet current demand, plan for expanding the system and save money over the long term, we’re acquiring our own vessels instead of paying for expensive charter boats.”
He added: “As these vessels are delivered, the city must pay its bills to the shipyards that built them.”