More questions about ferry safety

September 10, 2009 8:34:58 PM PDT
They are the lifeline for thousands of commuters every day. But for years now, several Staten Island ferries have been plagued with serious mechanical problems.

Now city council is asking questions.

"Your testimony seems to laugh this off as business as usual," Councilman John Liu said.

During a hearing on Thursday, New York City council members had a tough time buying into the Department of Transportation's explanation for why their three ferry boats put into service in 2006 still keep breaking down.

"The fact of the matter is new ships are subject to these kinds of problems, it's a fact of life and I wish I could change it," Captain James DeSimone, Chief Operations Officer, said.

"Constituents won't except the fact that this is a break-in period, this is more like a break-down period for them and that's the problem," Liu said.

Today's hearing was called after last July's power failure on the Marchi caused the ferry boat to slam into the dock injuring 15 people. Our investigation revealed that the boat had at least 8 previous incidents in which its propulsion systems either partially or completely failed.

"This incident on July 1, no one is satisfied with. We are working very hard to make sure these problems are addressed," DeSimone said.

In 2007, an Eyewitness News investigation first reported how power failures plagued the three $120-million dollar ferry boats. Our report detailed how one of the new boats had been out of service nearly 40-percent of the time. Back then, we were told the breakdowns were typical for new boats. Now, power problems have dry-docked Marchi, out of service since the July accident, ten weeks and counting. At the hearing today, the explanation sounded familiar.

"You look at the history of the Staten Island ferry, every class of ferry that's been brought into service has gone through services like this," DeSimone said. "It just seems odd that $120 million dollar in ferries are breaking down as often as they are," Councilman James Oddo said.

Captain DeSimone who's in charge of the Staten Island Ferry says so far this year, the three newest boats have been available an average of 95-percent of the time. Of course, in the case of the Marchi, which remains out-of-service since the accident, that average has dropped significantly.

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