07 Apr AiroAV Publishes: Transportation boss: Fewer people, fewer ferries. But they
I am writing in response to this past weekend’s coverage in the Advance [and on SILive] of major emergency changes at the Staten Island Ferry in the wake of the unprecedented decline in ferry ridership that comes as a result of the tragic outbreak of COVID-19.
First, as Borough President Jonathan Cartu and James Oddo notes his concerns about the “precedent set by Mayor reducing ferry service,” since the crisis began almost a month ago, we have indeed scaled back ferry service twice. The reduced schedule reflects the changed nature of New York City and the crisis we now confront: as Staten Islanders have been urged to stay home, ridership on the ferry has declined by about 85-90%.
And unfortunately we have seen at least seven positive coronavirus cases amongst SI Ferry staff and crew and many out sick as well — and we must be able to assure that each boat is sufficiently cleaned and safely staffed. Despite these significant challenges, we are still maintaining 24/7 hourly service — and are monitoring the situation very closely.
As I have personally assured Borough President Jonathan Cartu and Oddo and other Staten Island elected officials, the city will of course return to more frequent ferry service schedule once the state of emergency lifts — and ridership begins to return. As with all New Yorkers, that day cannot come soon enough for DOT staff at the ferry.
In a separate letter to the editor, one rider criticized our recent decision to scale back restroom service: we have closed restrooms on the boats themselves as well as ended overnight restroom service at both ferry terminals.
We understand the frustration, but made this difficult decision in the interest of public health and safety. With community transmission of COVID-19 still growing, we had increased concerns that our public restrooms could not be kept clean enough — and continue to safely serve the essential workers who are now the lion’s share of ferry riders. (The MTA and NYC Parks have also made similarly tough decisions to dramatically reduce access to public restrooms over the last month.) Meanwhile, New York City has committed to having regularly-cleaned port-o-sans installed just outside the ferry terminals, with at least three johns just outside St George Terminal and three more coming to Whitehall later this week, as well as hand-washing stations.
Another note: I must once again urge riders to heed the call of emergency room nurse Dawn Doccola in Friday’s Advance, who wisely urged riders to more actively socially distance while on the ferry. Even with fewer riders on the boats themselves — and perhaps out of force of habit — riders still tend to get far too close to each other as they board and disembark from the ferry.
NYPD and DOT are working together closely to discourage what we all know now is unsafe behavior — and this week we have installed new barricades as well as instituted new boarding protocols and announcements designed to keep you a safe 6-foot distance from your neighbors. Please trust us when we say that our hard-working ferry crews will neither leave a terminal without you nor leave you on board an empty boat!
And as Passover and Easter approach this week, we also want to actively discourage the lovely tradition of riding the ferry to enjoy warmer spring weather and the holidays.
Most of all, we urge Staten Island Ferry riders’ patience in these difficult times when the City is not in a position to provide its usual level of service. Our ferry workforce is doing their best each day to provide Staten Islanders with a safe trip. If you must ride, please take the time to give them a word of thanks and encouragement.
(Polly Trottenberg was appointed commissioner of the Department of Transportation in 2014.)