What with the huge popularity of the East River Ferry and that new petition to expand ferry service to the Rockaways over the summer, we’re living in a boom time for boat commutes, and rightly so. They’re incredibly pleasant! But they might not necessarily be all that safe.
On the heels of a ramp collapse that’s still rendering the Greenpoint East River Ferry station un-usable, an anonymous Staten Island Ferry captain has claimed that the fleet—our favorite way to drink beer on the high seas in the warm months—is riddled with problems, and a disaster waiting to happen.
In an interview, the captain told the Post, “I don’t understand how the Coast Guard allows these boats to go out sometimes. They really do put people at risk. If this were a private company, the Coast Guard would be all over them.” An even more perturbing sound bite? “Captains are concerned a big one is coming because of how unreliable the boats are.”
Of course, New York has a surprisingly extensive history of ferry boat accidents, and the captain cited problems and unreliability in the mechanisms that allow the boats to slow down or stop. “These [phase cells] tend to fail, and when they fail, it shuts down a drive,” he said. “If you lose a drive, power is reduced, so if you go to slow down, you don’t know if it’s going to slow down or if it’s just going to take longer. We’re supposed to get the same response every time, but you don’t know.”
Oddly, expensive new boats that entered the fleet in 2005 are among the least reliable, he said, and the fleet’s best is still the John F. Kennedy, which was commissioned back in 1965. Not exactly heartening news about our warm-weather commutes. But, um, maybe there’s an off-chance this whistle-blowing will lead to foolproof, system-wide updates in time for summer? One can only hope.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.