Questioning the integrity of the selection process behind the city’s ferry program, Comptroller Scott Stringer again on Tuesday sent back an $82 million plan to buy new boats.
THE CITY reported last week that the Economic Development Corporation judged a bid from ferry operator Hornblower Cruises to be cheaper than a competing offer from three New York-based companies, despite the fact that the local bidders included the provision of boats and the Hornblower plan involves the city buying them.
The city is now on the hook for $232 million in boats and could spend $137 million more in coming years.
In a memo to the EDC, Stringer asked the agency to explain how the two bidders “were accorded fair and equal treatment with respect to any opportunity for discussion and revision of proposals.”
Stringer charged that the EDC gave Hornblower “more time and access to the agency, thereby potentially providing [them] with an unfair advantage.”
EDC responded that it adhered to its bidding rules.
Stringer also asked EDC to explain the math behind purchasing the boats.
The agency responded to Stringer’s memo with a statement defending its services.
“It’s unfortunate the comptroller is creating hurdles and delays that could impact the commuting needs of New Yorkers,” spokeswoman Stephanie Báez said in a written statement. “With over 8 million riders and counting, it’s clear that NYC Ferry is serving far-flung communities that lack existing forms of mass transit — which is exactly what we set out to do.”
The agency said that 19 EDC staff members have spent more than 200 hours responding to the comptroller’s requests to date.
Last week, the comptroller called for the city’s Department of Transportation to take over the handling of the ferry system, while blasting the EDC for a lack of transparency.
“While I appreciate EDC’s recent efforts to respond to our initial queries, EDC has yet to provide the full range of information, supporting documents and analyses necessary for our office to properly assess this contract,” Stringer said Tuesday in a written statement.
Asked about the boat-buying decision last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio argued that the EDC “had an initial mission to see if the concept would work in practice — it was a sort of proof of concept reality here.”
“They wanted to make sure it would work and they wanted to limit exposure until they could figure out what would work for the long haul,” he said.
But THE CITY’s reporting last week showed that the EDC agreed to a contract provision that would allow Hornblower to force the purchase all boats in operation for the program. And it made that commitment in the initial operating agreement in 2016 — well before the program was up and running.
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