Ferry big risk for SI riders
There could be rough waters ahead for Staten Island Ferry riders.
The newest fleet of ships is subject to dangerous and unexpected breakdowns in only its fourth year of service, Department of Transportation officials said at a City Council hearing yesterday.
One of those boats is the Sen. John J. Marchi, on which 15 people were injured in July when it lost power and rammed into the St. George Terminal.
The reason is that custom-built ferries routinely go through “teething problems” in their first years on the water, said James DeSimone, chief of the ferry service.
“New ships are subject to these types of problems,” DeSimone told the council Transportation Committee. “We take it very seriously.”
In the case of the Marchi crash, a computer glitch caused the propellers to shut down because of a “split-second” voltage dip caused by a transformer blowing out. DeSimone said that issue is being corrected.
“This is something that happens. Every class of ferry that has been brought into service has gone through issues like this,” DeSimone said. “This is the reality we’re dealing with.”
Council members were unwilling to accept DeSimone’s explanation that the boats go through growing pains.
“This isn’t a break-in period, it’s a breakdown period,” said committee Chairman John Liu (D-Queens).
“The frustration of my constituents is, we don’t care,” said Councilman Vincent Ignizio (D-SI). “Whatever the issues, they want the boat safe and on time.”
Anthony Bianco, 50, a rider for the last eight years, was surprised by DeSimone’s grim testimony about breakdowns.
“It runs pretty well, for the most part,” Bianco said. “I feel safe.”
DeSimone also said fewer mechanical problems have caused delays to drop dramatically this year and noted the ships were on schedule 93 percent of the time.
He also said the final report on the Marchi crash still hasn’t been completed.
The Marchi cost $45 million, and its warranty has expired. The cost of the transformer repair is estimated at $250,000, though DeSimone said he is not sure if the city or the manufacturer will shoulder the cost.
DeSimone also said the city is working with a contractor to determine whether old ferries should be replaced with newer models or if they should be rehabbed.