By: Teresa Roca
Every weekday morning, Dina Amato begins her commute to Manhattan by boarding the St. George-bound train to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. As the express train zips by, it abruptly stops between two stations. Sighing in frustration, Amato checks her watch to see if making the ferry will be a possibility. The conductor makes an announcement in an attempt to keep commuters patient, blaming the 10-minute delay on construction and slippery tracks from leaves. With only a few minutes to spare, the train pulls into the St. George station as Amato runs with a crowd of commuters to the turnstiles. The only way Amato can get onto the free ferry is by paying $2.25 for the train that may have just caused her to miss her connection.
“I have been taking the train for about 10 years now and I don’t ever remember a time when it was so disrupted by leaves falling, that just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Amato. “If that is the case I think they would have to figure out a solution. You can’t just let people sit there on the train without any explanation other than leaves are falling and you’re going to miss your ferry and too bad. I just think they’re in fumble mode right now and they’re using the leaves as an excuse.”
The Staten Island Railway is the only running transit line in the borough, providing full-time local service and part-time express service between St. George and Tottenville. The 22-stop train is free between stations. The only stops Staten Islanders have to pay the $2.25 fee is when exiting the train at St. George to get onto the ferry and at Tompkinsville station, the second to last stop on the train. Because of heavy delays, many islanders feel that paying this fee is unfair.
Since May 21st, 2012, the Grasmere station has been undergoing construction in an effort to upgrade the station. According to mta.info, the track work at this station will be completed by April 2013. Destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy has added to the delays. The storm damaged the signal system, allowing only two of the tracks to operate. Service won’t be fully restored until March 2013.
“I think since the train services aren’t running at 100 percent right now we shouldn’t have to pay,” said St. Francis College undergraduate Anthony Ruggiero.
Some Staten Islanders feel that a waived fee from the other stations makes up for the cancelled express trains and heavy delays during rush hour.
“With any MTA system, even with the subways, there are always delays and problems,” said Cecilia Tribuzio, an undergraduate student at LIM College. “I feel like the train is pretty good for not having to pay at all the stops.”
For years, commuters would get off at the Tomkinsville station and walk six blocks to the Staten Island Ferry to avoid paying the fare. In 2010, MTA added turnstiles to the station to restrict islanders from getting out of paying at St. George.
“A lot of people used to get off,” said Pino Ciaccia, a longtime commuter who used to beat this system. “I would say half of the people walking to the ferry were people who lived in the area and the other half would take the five-minute walk to save two dollars.”
John G. Gaul, former vice president and chief officer of the railway, stated in an interview to The New York Times that the added turnstiles at Tomkinsville were “in a large measure, but not totally,” to receive fare from people who tried to beat the system. He projected that they would receive about $661,000 in annual revenue by adding turnstiles at Tompkinsville.
“I think it’s fair because people used to leave Tomkinsville and not have to pay for the train when they got off for the ferry,” said Tribuzio. “The MTA system was losing a lot of money.”
Until 1997, conductors of the Staten Island Railway would collect tickets from passengers as they boarded the train from one of the 22 stops. This was eliminated when the MetroCard was introduced. The Staten Island Railway lost about $3.4 million a year in response to the cut. Silive.com reported that in an effort to increase revenue, MTA plans to restore fare collection at every station.
“I don’t think that makes sense because a lot of students use the train system to get to and from school and a lot of elderly people and local people use it,” said Amato. “I mean, it’s still a city suburb so I think a lot of people use that to get around Staten Island.”
Ciaccia feels that paying $2.25 at Tomkinsville and St. George is bad enough, let alone at every station.
“There is a lot of waste because a lot of the time I see work and the work has not been finished or they fix the stations and you see ten people doing nothing all day long. You never see a complete job. MTA should manage their resources and the money they spend in a better way. The easy way is to raise the fare.”
For residents living on the South Shore of Staten Island, the Staten Island Railway is their only source of transportation to midtown Manhattan. Although they can drive to express bus stops, that would involve more time, money and frustration since parking is limited.
“If you want to run to a Knicks game real quick you have to plan a few hours in advance just to get there early for a game that starts at 7,” said Ruggiero. “You have to leave here at least 3:30 p.m. just to get to the city on time. It’s really a pain living in Staten Island, especially with this train.”
When asked how the MTA could improve transportation for South Shore Staten Islanders, Amato insisted that MTA focus on other alternatives.
“I really don’t understand why South Shore Staten Islanders can’t get straight to midtown Manhattan without relying on the train system. I think they should put a ferry down on the South Shore. Utilizing Tottenville would be great since there is a port capability right there. It can make multiple stops up the island and go right downtown.”
Staten Islanders respond to delays and the possible addition of turnstiles at every station.