Ferry fury: Locals blast NY Waterway over noisy boats at BPC ferry terminal

Battery Park City residents want to keel haul managers at NY Waterway over noisy boat engines at the local ferry terminal.
Associated Press / Mary Altaffer

BY COLIN MIXSON

After an outcry from people living near the Battery Park City ferry terminal, NY Waterway promised last week to pull four of its loudest ships from service — but locals say the ferry operator is already backsliding.

An armada of disgruntled locals living along River Terrace unleashed a salvo of quality-of-life complaints on ferry terminal manager Donald Liloia at a Dec. 5 meeting of Community Board 1’s BPC Committee, saying that the four ear-splitting ships — Fiorello Laguardia, Yogi Berra, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln — are rattling windows and keeping kids awake.

“When it starts to effect families is when it becomes a passionate issue,” said River Terrace resident Ryan Stroker.

None of the ferry service’s fleet of passenger ships is particularly quiet, but two of those problem boats — the ones named after dead presidents — are well known for kicking up a din that locals can actually feel it vibrating through their floorboards, according to River Terrace resident Betty Kay.

“Two of those four boats send vibrations that some people complain about feeling in their apartments,” Kay said.

NY Waterway — the operator of the ferry terminal, which is the only one located nearby a residential community — has known about the issue for years, and even pulled those four ferries from service after locals made a similar fuss in 2014, according to Liloia.

“A couple years ago we agreed to some operating changes that fell by the wayside,” Liloia said.

All four ships made an unceremonious return after NY Waterway’s partner, the Billybey Ferry Company, sold its stake in the ferry service in 2016, and NY Waterway decided to bring the problem ships back to the BPC port after other ferries were sold and new routes were added, Liloia said.

“What happened with the Billybey sale is some equipment was sold, the fleet size diminished, and additional services opened up,” he said. “Sometimes when you take a boat out of service, you have to put a boat on a route it might not normally do.”

But locals didn’t schlep out to the Downtown community meeting just to protest the four ships’ noisy engines. Residents also complained that ferry captains like to toot their horns excessively when coming in and out of dock.

“Some captains just crush it,” Stroker said. “They lay on the horn and are incredibly unaware.”

Liloia promised to relocate the four boats to appease residents, but he said that the horn-blowing is mandated by Uncle Sam. Ferry captains have been required by the U.S. Coast Guard to honk their horns near port ever since Hudson River kayakers complained the ferry ships were too quiet, according to the ferry manager.

“Because we weren’t sounding the horns, kayakers were complaining to the Coast Guard,” Liloia said. “If the captains don’t do it, they risk losing their license.”

Liloia conceded that some captains are heavier on the horn than others, and said that he would have a chat with his shipmasters to encourage a lighter touch in the future.

Residents had other demands, not least that the terminal itself should be moved further north away from housing. But Liloia, who doesn’t represent the port’s owner, the Port Authority, nonetheless put the kibosh on that idea, saying he didn’t think the 30-year-old, multi-million-dollar ferry terminal would be moving anytime soon.

“It’s not my terminal,” he said, “but that’s not realistic.”

This wasn’t the first time locals have dragged the NY Wateway manager before the community board, and it’s unlikely to be the last, according to Liloia, who said incoming residents eventually want to vent about the ferry service.

“Every time a new wave of people move in, I’m back in front of the community board,” he said. “But it’s good. Sometimes we need to be reminded of what our commitments are.”

They may need another refresher already. River Terrace resident Jay Han said that on Dec. 12 — exactly a week after Liloia promised to pull the four boisterous boats — one of the loudest, George Washington, resumed making trips to the BPC terminal, starting at 7 am, every 20 minutes.

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