Ferries draw disaster funding

Vessels operating at less than half of capacity from Hoboken to Manhattan

October 09, 2002|By Hugh R. Morley | Hugh R. Morley,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NEW YORK - A shortfall in riders between Hoboken and Manhattan has left the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey paying $1.14 million a month in federal disaster funds to NY Waterway for a ferry service that operates at less than half capacity.

Since March, the Weehawken company has been paid $551 per boat per hour to provide enough vessels, captains, deckhands, and other personnel to carry the 60,000 riders a day who used the PATH train routes that were destroyed when the World Trade Center collapsed, Port Authority and company officials said.

But the ferry ridership - which was about 20,000 on the Hoboken to lower Manhattan routes when the contract started - has risen only about 20 percent to about 25,000 or 26,000, company officials said.

Of the monthly total paid to NY Waterway, 20 percent is a management fee, according to the contract.

Before Sept. 11 last year, the company carried about 11,000 passengers from Hoboken, a volume that rose to 20,000 even before the Port Authority opted to provide additional service.

Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said the agency hopes that ridership will increase.

"We didn't expect 60,000 people to be on the ferries the first day," said Coleman.

"But we wanted to provide the capacity so that if people wanted to use it, it would be available to them."

`It takes time'

"We look at it that it takes time to build a ridership," he said, adding that the routes are funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

If the funding stops, then Port Authority will review the service, Coleman said.

FEMA spokesman James McIntyre said he could not comment on the contract because the Port Authority put it into place.

"We actually provided the money for a certain length of time and we will review that when the time ends," he said. "The Port Authority is responsible for the maintenance of that program."

The contract requires the ferry company to provide service on three routes, between Hoboken and the World Financial Center, Pier A in Battery Park, and Pier 11 on the west side of lower Manhattan.

At peak time, the boats make more than 30 trips an hour, a volume that required the company to hire 10 additional boats and 100 employees, company officials said.

A fourth service, providing ferries between Pier A and Pier 11, was discontinued in June because of low ridership, Coleman said.

But NY Waterway was not responsible for ensuring that they were full, said company spokesman Pat Smith.

"We were asked to do this," Smith said.

"We were not asked to provide the riders. We were asked to provide the capacity."

Seven routes added

The Hoboken contract is part of a sharp rise in the fortunes of the company since the terrorist attacks disrupted commuter lines to Manhattan.

Started by Arthur Imperatore Sr., who built APA Transport from a single-truck operation to a powerhouse in the trucking industry before it closed earlier in the year, the ferries were originally intended to bring commuters to and from a proposed mini-city development on the Hudson waterfront.

Since the attacks, the company has seen total ridership on all routes jump from 33,000 to 65,000 a day, and added seven routes, bringing the total to 22.

Company revenue jumped from $37 million in 2000 to $47 million in 2001. Net income rose to $5.8 million, from $2 million over the same period.

"At the end of the day, NY Waterway receives a small profit, which is reinvested in building additional boats," Smith said.

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