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OpinionColumnistsRachel Figueroa-Levin

Tell me the Staten Island Ferry is safe

Transporting approximately 75,000 passengers to and from Staten

Transporting approximately 75,000 passengers to and from Staten Island, the five Staten Island Ferry boats make over 100 trips each day. Photo Credit: amNewYork

Whenever I tell someone who's not from New York that I'm from Staten Island, I often get this in return: "Oh! From the ferry!"

Another thing they might bring up is the unfortunate (now-closed) Fresh Kills landfill, but the lasting image many have of Staten Island is the ferry. Heck, even when Staten Island is mentioned on the news, the picture often shown is either of the ferry or the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, regardless of whether it's germane to the story.

I don't mind. I loved riding the ferry as a kid. But I grew concerned after an anonymous Staten Island Ferry captain told the New York Post recently that the service's eight craft were unseaworthy, citing safety hazards and badly performing batteries. The captain's claims are startling given the frequency of ferry accidents over the past decade.

Battery problems and mechanical failures are two of the factors that have led to eight ferry incidents in 11 years. In October 2003, 11 people died and more than 70 were injured when the Andrew J. Barberi slammed into a pier at the St. George ferry terminal. Capt. Richard Smith later pleaded guilty to manslaughter, admitting he was on painkillers and passed out in the boat's pilot house. In 2009, the ferry John J. Marchi hit a pier at the St. George Terminal, injuring 15 passengers. The following year, a ferry with mechanical problems slammed into the terminal, injuring nearly 40 people.

The Department of Transportation, the operator of the service, told the Post that the vessels have been deemed seaworthy by the Coast Guard, which certifies them for operation.

So, basically my options for visiting family on Staten Island are to pay out the nose to cross the bridge, wait forever for an express bus, or catch a ride on a potential barge of doom.

The ferry isn't just iconic, it's also necessary. It makes more than 35,000 trips a year, carrying about 22 million people -- including commuters who work in Manhattan.

We are supposed to Remember the Maine, not Remember the Marchi.

Staten Island has been "the forgotten borough," has gotten stuck with city trash and overpriced bridges, and seems to run out of plows after winter storms. Can't it at least be served by ferries that aren't accidents waiting to happen?


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