Staten Island Ferry resumes normal schedule after modifying service due to staffing shortage

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Thursday, August 4, 2022
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Johny Fernandez reports from St. George Terminal on commuters' frustrations.

ST. GEORGE, Staten Island (WABC) -- The Staten Island Ferry resumed its normal schedule after a rocky night for commuters.

Thursday's rush hour saw the return of boats running every 15 minutes.

NewsCopter 7 was overhead as the first boat of the morning made the trip across New York Harbor.

Commuters Thursday morning were not pleased when several trips were delayed.

"You don't know if it's COVID, you don't know if there's a strike, you don't know if they don't want to come to work," said Sharif Abdelrahim. "I don't know. It is what it is."

"We didn't know anything," said Sara Jaouad. "I mean, if we didn't see everybody coming this way, we would have stay there forever."

Others, though, seemed to take it more or less in stride.

"I've been here all my whole life. I've experienced a lot," said James Hart. "It's just something that people are going to have to get through until the situation with the workers is settled."

The NYC Department of Transportation continued to "strongly recommend New Yorkers seek alternate modes of public transit, such as NYC Ferry and express buses. The SI Ferry should be used for essential travel only."

NYC Ferry is operating hourly between St George's Landing & the Battery Maritime Building adjacent to Whitehall Terminal.

All of this came after officials had to change the schedule late Wednesday to run every hour instead of every 15 minutes after a large part of the ferry workforce failed to show up to work.

The MTA encouraged commuters to seek out alternative routes and said New York City Transit had increased bus service to Staten Island.

Increased express bus service was provided on the SIM1/SIM1C (Hylan Blvd), SIM3/SIM3C (Port Richmond), and SIM4/SIM4C (Richmond Avenue).

Customers could also take a Brooklyn-bound R train from Whitehall St-South Ferry to 86th St and 4 Ave in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Customers could continue their journey to Staten Island by taking the S79 SBS, S53, or S93 bus where service would be augmented as necessary. Limited service was suspended on all Staten Island local routes (except for S93 and S89).

In a joint statement, Staten Island elected officials said the service disruptions have "become systemic."

"The recent disruptions in Staten Island Ferry service are no longer isolated cases. This leads us to believe that the matter needs to be resolved at the negotiating table. The Staten Island Ferry is a vital transportation service for tens of thousands of Staten Island residents. We do not want our ferry commuters to continue to be 'collateral damage in this process. It's the commuters who are suffering from a situation over which they neither have power nor responsibility."

The statement was issued by Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, Assemblymembers Michael Reilly, Michael Cusick, Charles Fall, Sen. Andrew Lanza, City Councilmembers Kamillah Hanks) and City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli.

"COVID is not the issue at the ferry right now. The fact that DOT is saying it's an issue is the larger issue. It's actually the fact that we're very shorthanded in all of our titles," said MEBA Secretary-Treasurer, Roland Rexha.

The ferry is currently short-staffed by approximately 15 workers in key operational positions, such as assistant captains, engineers, and oilers.

The ferry operated on an overnight hourly schedule Tuesday into Wednesday. It ran 20-minute service through the morning rush, down from the normal service every 15 minutes.

Due to the short-staffing, it can be difficult to run full service whenever crew members are off, on vacation, or unexpected illnesses.

"If you're short one person in one of those titles it's damning, but if you're short three or four in a title like the marine engineer that has 18 jobs, if you're missing four people, you're missing almost a quarter of your workforce," Rexha said.

Filling the vacant positions has been a struggle due to a national shortage of qualified, professional mariners.

The ongoing short-staffing has also forced existing crew members to work longer shifts without proper breaks, contributing to worker fatigue that could pose potential safety issues.

"We're navigating some of the most heavily-trafficked waters in the country. The fact that they're not getting proper breaks is a reason for employee fatigue, and it also burns people out and makes them want to leave the job," Rexha said.

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