New York City will reopen the lower levels of its two Staten Island Ferry terminals in September in an effort to ease congestion at the crowded stations.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced details of the move at a Wednesday news conference where he acknowledged the bottlenecks that frequently occur at the Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan and St. George Terminal on Staten Island.
“You have hundreds and hundreds of people trying to squeeze through just a few doors, particularly during rush hour,” de Blasio said on Staten Island, shortly after going through the process himself during a morning commute aboard a ferry.
The city stopped allowing lower level embarkment after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as part of federal security measures enacted by Congress in 2002.
Currently, the city makes exceptions, allowing passengers with disabilities, or those riding bicycles, to board from below, but under federal security guidelines, the city must keep all passengers boarding the ferry, separate from those disembarking.
The mayor’s office said the city will spend $2 million on security enhancements for the lower-level openings. The mayor’s office said the reopening at St. George Terminal will start off as a “pilot” program running from the morning rush hours of 7 to 9 a.m.
The U.S. Coast Guard must still sign off on the plan. Staten Island Ferry Chief Operating Officer James DeSimone said the city didn’t “expect any problems,” given the two agencies have been in “preliminary” discussions about the plan since late last year.
Staten Island Borough President James Oddo lauded the plan, comparing the current boarding process to being “forced to shuffle along like a zombie on ‘The Walking Dead,’ ” television show.
The Staten Island Ferry conducts 23 million trips each year, and carries nearly 70,000 passengers daily, according to the figures provided by the de Blasio’s office.
The mayor’s announcement came on the third day of his five-day stint working from Staten Island as part of his “City Hall in your Borough” initiative. The mayor also met with residents at a local senior citizens home and is slated to hold a town hall forum Thursday evening at the Prall Intermediate School.