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NY Waterway Ferries pulled over Safety Issues

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Commuter Misery After Most Ferries to N.Y. Pulled Over Safety Issues

“I’ve never seen this particular line this bad,” a man said. The fleet between New Jersey and New York City carries 32,000 riders daily.

By Patrick McGeehan

Nov. 25, 2019, 10:56 a.m. ET



Commuters trying to reach New York City by boat on Monday morning encountered long lines and delays after the United States Coast Guard found safety problems with more than 20 ferries that ply the Hudson River and sidelined them.

The Coast Guard said on Sunday that it had found 23 ferries operated by New York Waterway “unfit” for service and ordered that they be taken out of service for repairs. The Coast Guard said the problems did not represent a safety risk to riders.

The suspended boats comprised more than two-thirds of the fleet of Waterway, which is the dominant operator of commuter ferries between New Jersey and New York City.

On Sunday evening, Waterway, which says it carries 32,000 riders daily, announced on its website that service would be reduced on several of its routes. Its boats from Weehawken, N.J., to West 39th Street in Manhattan were running every 20 minutes instead of every 10 minutes, creating longer than usual waits Monday morning.

At 8:56 a.m., lines for the 9 a.m. ferry to Midtown Manhattan stretched down from the platform and back to the entrance of the Port Imperial terminal in Weehawken. Commuters, some holding electric scooters or bicycles, checked their phones anxiously.

Among those appearing worried about the delay was Ken Boyar, 61, an accountant who had scheduled a meeting in a client’s office in Manhattan. “It feels like I got up particularly early to make an earlier boat and that’s all going down the tubes,” he said.

Mr. Boyar added that he was worried he might not make the boat because of the crowd.

“I’ve never seen this particular line this bad,” he said.

Larry Metzelaar, 54, who works in management at a retailing company’s offices near Madison Square Garden, said that in his three years of commuting on the ferries, the only similar delays had been caused by severe winter weather. He said he was concerned about being late.

“I have a meeting I have to be at first thing in the morning,” Mr. Metzelaar said, taking off his earmuffs.

He said the high number of failed inspections “does give you pause,’’ though he said he was confident that the problems with the fleet would be resolved quickly.

As the last call sounded to board the 7:20 a.m. boat to Midtown Manhattan, a stream of commuters dressed for the brisk morning and gripping yellow coffee cups darted down the gangway.

Jennifer Griggs, 36, who lives in West New York and works in Manhattan’s garment district, just missed that boat, leaving her with a 20-minute wait that she said should not cause much trouble.

Ms. Griggs said she had learned on Monday morning through a Facebook group post that the ferries would be delayed because of the inspections.

“Normally they have safety checks by captains on board,” she said. “So it’s just a little surprising that there’s not more routine maintenance and regularly scheduled inspections.”

Waterway said that several of its busiest routes, including those from Hoboken Terminal and a long-distance run from the Jersey Shore to Lower Manhattan, would operate normally on Monday.

Pat Smith, a spokesman for Waterway, said the company had gotten four boats, including yellow New York Water Taxis, to temporarily supplement its depleted fleet. Mr. Smith declined to say what was wrong with Waterway’s boats or how soon the problems could be corrected.

The Coast Guard said around midday on Sunday that “marine inspectors determined the 23 ferries had damage or discrepancies significant enough to warrant a suspension of service. So far, two of those vessels have been reinspected and returned to normal operations.”

On Sunday afternoon, Mr. Smith said that the number of boats that had been reinspected and cleared was up to eight.

In more than 30 years of providing commuter service across the Hudson, New York Waterway had never had so many boats fail inspections at one time.

Word of the company’s troubles spread around the harbor late last week.

On Friday, John Hightower, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, said that nine of the company’s ferries had been ordered out of service for “general safety violations” during an inspection of its fleet of 32 boats.

Mr. Hightower declined to describe the violations but said they did not involve “anything life-endangering.” He said the boats would not be cleared to return to service until the “problems are fixed.”

Only on Saturday, when the Coast Guard inspected 21 of Waterway’s boats, did the full extent of the failures become apparent. The Coast Guard said it inspected the entire fleet after “discovering multiple discrepancies during routine vessel inspections over the past two weeks.”

Waterway has been providing a ferry to replace the PATH train between Jersey City and Lower Manhattan, which has been shut down on weekends for repairs. Mr. Smith said that service had not been affected over the weekend.



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