Peter Ebright – New York Cruise Lines
Come spring of next year, the first electric ferry could be docking in New York Harbor, but first Peter Ebright must do his part to get a slew of entities on board. He’s general counsel for New York Cruise Lines, which has been operating marine-centered tourism, transportation, dining and entertainment since 1945.
All the better if one of its subsidiaries, New York Water Taxi, can ply this waterway in a carbon-free manner. With Ebright among those sorting out the details, the service partnered last November with a Swedish entity, Green City Ferries AB, to bring a high-speed, zero-emissions ferry, the Beluga24, to this side of the Atlantic.
Decked out in NYCL’s trademark yellow and black colors, the streamlined Beluga24 can carry 147 passengers and 28 bicycles. Powered by batteries and high-speed water jets, the boat’s sure to be an attraction, Ebright says.
Provided, of course, it has the infrastructure to keep it duly charged and that’ll take some arranging with local, state and federal authorities.
“There’s a lot of desire for this to be done, but it’s a matter of balancing the interests of different stakeholders,” Ebright tells Vanguard in March. “My goal is always to find a legal way to complement our business functions instead of standing in the way. We all hope to have a boat in the water next year, but there is a lot of work to be done in the meantime.”
Leading the charge
This includes finding the most practical type of charging infrastructure and how its costs should be covered. It could be on a barge or a dockside platform.
It also wouldn’t necessarily be for Beluga24’s exclusive use—Ebright describing how once this system is wired, it’ll likely have other maritime operators wanting to go the fuel-free route. While he says that’s to be welcomed by all proponents of sustainability, it does bring forth logistical issues such as rights, rates and scheduling.
But he keeps his eye on the prize, noting this ferry has the potential to pave the path for a more carbon-free New York Harbor.
Eight years ago, Ebright was executive vice president of New York Water Taxi, which was soon to be acquired by New York Cruise Lines and had contracted to provide commuter service for New York University Medical Center. On the first day that the new service was in operation, many doctors, nurses and hospital staffers might have been very late for work had it not been for the water taxi.
“President Obama was in town and the FDR Drive was closed off for traffic as the presidential motorcade rode from downtown to midtown,” Ebright recalls. “Much of the hospital’s leadership was on our boat for the launch of the service and gained a special appreciation for the value of marine transportation.”
Around and around
Most well-known among NYCL’s various offerings is Circle Line, the iconic brand dating back to 1945 with a fleet of modern vessels offering many different tours of New York City. NYCL also operates New York’s only floating lobster shack, the North River Lobster Co., and only floating Mexican restaurant, La Barca Cantina.
For those wanting more of an adrenaline rush, there’s The Beast, a greenie meanie of a high-speed, jet-powered thrill ride from Midtown Manhattan to Ellis Island and back. In all, NYCL operates more than 20 vessels which combine to carry 1 million-plus passengers a year. Ebright’s role is enjoyably varied, ranging from strictly legal matters to operations and business-generation.
There’s plenty to do on all fronts as well as in his new and complementary role on the board of the Waterfront Alliance, which works to define the harbor’s response to rising sea levels, coastal storms and general accessibility to the waterfront. While it’s been around for 20 years, it’s gotten more attention since Superstorm Sandy wracked the Eastern Seaboard in the fall of 2012.
Electric boats obviously aren’t the complete solution, but Ebright sees them as part of an overdue sustainability push.
“Climate change is a reality we all need to adjust to,” he says. “That goes for every user of the waterfront—including us—and those adjacent to the waterfront.”
There’s plenty for Ebright to do on all fronts while overseeing NYCL’s legal interests, as he’s done since 2017 when the company made him its first general counsel after acquiring New York Water Taxi.
“I just came with the furniture,” he says with a good-natured laugh.
But he’s had a seat at the table and relishes his role. Anything about urban planning and land-use law arouses Ebright’s interest, and around 2004 he considered transitioning to such a role when the thrill of litigating began wearing thin.
A Tufts University undergrad with a degree in political science, Ebright earned his juris doctorate at Rutgers University in 1997 and honed his litigatory skills with a couple New York area firms. But in 2004 he enrolled at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service for a two-year master’s program in urban planning and from 2007 to 2012 led the Special Enforcement Team at the New York City Department of Buildings.
While one doesn’t make many friends taking legal action against architects and engineers who short coding and zoning, he says it was a tremendously satisfying five years that prepared him for a return to private law with Manatt, Phelps and Phillips from 2012 to 2015.
That too was a worthwhile stretch, one that had him in a governmental relations role and involved in local decision-making. His favorite client was the Durst Organization, a venerable and civic-minded real estate developer whose holdings included New York Water Taxi, for whom Ebright had consulted on ferry routes while a master’s student.
The company wooed Ebright aboard during a particularly consequential time when New York Water Taxi had just submitted its bid to operate a new municipal ferry service. Looking to better its odds, New York Water Taxi partnered with another company but didn’t get the contract. The company was soon thereafter purchased by NYCL, which has worked out well for Ebright.
He is now settled with his family in South Orange, New Jersey, where a hilly early morning bike ride is one of his greatest pleasures.
And given his role in furthering maritime transit, does he have a boat?
“Actually, I’ve always been more of a car guy,” he says. “But anything powered by an engine has my interest. I love New York and the waterfront and love that my job allows me to help see them thrive.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring III 2023 Edition here.
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