East River Ferries Going Green with Eco-Friendly Upgrades

By Mary Johnson | October 18, 2011 8:56pm
NY Waterway's East River Ferry which launched in June of 2011, is adding eco-friendly upgrades to help reduce emissions.
NY Waterway's East River Ferry which launched in June of 2011, is adding eco-friendly upgrades to help reduce emissions.
View Full Caption

KIPS BAY — The largest private ferry operator in the country and the company behind the recently launched East River Ferry is making maritime travel a little greener.

NY Waterway, through a partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), is introducing new technology to all 31 vessels in its fleet that will reduce emissions of pollutants known as nitrogen oxides by 30 tons each year, said Dayle Zatlin, assistant director of communications for NYSERDA.

The upgrades will also eliminate 2 tons of sooty material from the engines’ exhaust each year, she added.

“This [hasn’t] been done with this type of equipment before,” Zatlin said. “In fact, we have been asked to speak at international conferences about this because they are looking at this as a model.”

The East River Ferry near the Brooklyn Bridge.
The East River Ferry near the Brooklyn Bridge.
View Full Caption
NY Waterway's East River Ferry

In total, the project will cost more than $8 million, Zatlin noted. The Federal Transit Administration has contributed about $4.8 million to the project, the city Department of Transportation gave $2.5 million, and NY Waterway kicked in almost $1 million to help its fleet go green.

Currently, the state does not regulate emissions from marine vessels, Zatlin said. The Environmental Protection Agency has certain standards, but only for new boats.

“The federal regulations do not require companies to go back and retrofit, which is why this is such a great project, because the ferry company is doing this voluntarily,” Zatlin said. “They want to have a cleaner fleet.”

The project has been in the works for several years, explained Paul Goodman, CEO of BillyBey Ferry Company, which operates under the NY Waterway brand.

“In general, we think we’re an environmentally friendly alternative,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve that.”

A pilot study tested the new technology on two NY Waterway boats back in 2009, and the full installation began last November. It is expected be completed by the spring of 2012, Goodman added.

As part of the project, diesel oxidation catalysts, or DOCs, will be added to all 31 NY Waterway ferries. The equipment controls emissions by helping the boats burn fuel more efficiently and emit less smoke, Goodman said.

In addition, nine of the oldest boats in the fleet will be outfitted with new, more environmentally friendly engines, explained Alan Warren, vice president of operations and maintenance for NY Waterway.

The project has been one of the most challenging Warren has taken on, he noted. Each part must be custom fitted to the vessels, meaning every boat will be out of commission for several weeks while it’s being upgraded.

But the work is important, he said. 

While the ferries are already an eco-friendly public transit option — doing the work of eight buses in one trip — decreasing their environmental impact stands to benefit both the current generation and those to come.

“I have two young kids. I have to worry about the environment," Warren said. “This is what’s going to help transportation years down the road."