Money-losing routes hurt N.Y. ferry operator

NY Waterway, Weehawken, N.J., the largest ferry operator in New York Harbor, is suffering financial troubles from unprofitable ferry routes and declining ridership. 

The ferry company is currently negotiating with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New York City Department of Transportation to help keep unprofitable routes open. The agencies encouraged the ferry line to expand after 9/11 when commuter train lines were damaged during the terrorist attacks.

Pat Smith, the company’s spokesman, said no one connected to the negotiations is talking and that he didn’t know how long the negotiations would last. 

“It’s a cash flow problem that needs to be fixed,” said Smith. “There are those routes that are not profitable, and there’s a point where you can’t continue.”

Smith did not name the unprofitable routes. However, a recent New York Times article mentioned that ferry service from Hoboken, N.J., to a pair of Lower Manhattan locations had been adversely affected by higher fuel costs and the reopening of the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail line. (PATH lines were severely damaged during the 9/11 attacks.)

NY Waterway was carrying about 33,000 passengers per day prior to 9/11, but ridership ballooned to more than 50,000 by November 2003. Today, the ferry service is back to its pre-9/11 numbers of about 33,000 passengers per day on 22 routes between New York and New Jersey.

The company owns or has lease-purchase options on 35 commuter ferries and took delivery of 14 new aluminum ferries during a 2 1/2-year period from Allen Marine, Sitka, Alaska.

According to the Times, an estimated seven million mass transit riders cross  the Hudson River daily. Combined, the three private ferry companies — NY Waterway, Sea Streak, and New York Water Taxi — that work the Hudson River routes carry only about 1 percent of those riders.

Meanwhile, NY Waterway recently spent $2.4 million on engine overhauls for the ferries The Bravest and The Finest, originally owned by New York Fast Ferry. NY Waterway installed twin MTU 16V396 diesels, producing 2,600 hp each in both ferries, to further reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency.

The ferries, built by Derecktor Shipyards in 1996, each carry 360 passengers. The bowloading feature enables the vessels to load or discharge 360 passengers safely in less than four minutes, according to Smith. 

The Bravest and The Finest, along with a third ferry, The Monmouth, have been put on NY Waterways’ Belford-Manhattan service. “These boats were plugged into the right service,” Smith said, “a very profitable service.” 

                                 — Ken Hocke 

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