Quiet On The Ferry:one Pol's Dream

Diane J. Savino

December 23, 2007


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Staten Island Ferry, my old friend, I've come to ride on you again. But a preacher loudly preaching, Bothered me while I was reading. And the cell phone ring tone blaring in my brain, Still remains. Where can I find the sound of silence? If state Sen. Diane Savino has her way, ferry riders someday could find it in a "quiet zone" aboard the boats.
The designated area she envisions set aside on one of the decks would be free of loud talkers, iPod blasters, gabby gossipers and persistent preachers who occasionally disrupt the peace.

"It is amazing how little tolerance people have for noise these days," Ms. Savino said.
"We have the deck space," she said, and the only cost involved would be putting up a sign admonishing blabbermouths to "shush."The idea sounds good to Vinnie Montalbano, a ferry rider from New Brighton, who spends his daily trip to and from work poring over the newspaper."You just want that down time for winding up before work, or winding down after work," said Montalbano, who said he is particularly irked by loud, one-sided cell phone conversations, and especially the "chirping" noise of two-way phones. But not all ferry riders believe such a regulation necessary.

"I'm generally able to find a quiet area," said St. George resident and Ferry Riders Committee member Tamara Coombs. "I don't know about others, but I suppose it depends on what boat they're on." And West Brighton resident Martin Holder's daily ride aboard the 5:30 or 6 a.m. ferry is usually quiet, since most commuters are still practically comatose. "The preacher is still in bed at that hour," he said. "I sit down on the lower deck. It's very quiet," he said.

But for those aboard later boats, when people are more boisterous, with limited time during the day to get lost in a book or magazine, "a quiet ride would be a tremendous improvement in the quality of lives of thousands of riders spanning an hour a day on the ferry," Sen. Savino said.
She pointed to similar quiet zones that already have been established on commuter rail lines like Amtrak. Montalbano said he rode in one of Amtrak's quiet cars on a trip to Washington.
"It was just wonderful, it was really great," he said. "You could read, you could do work, and you didn't have these noises coming at you." But the city's Department of Transportation, which operates the ferry, isn't as keen on the idea. "We'd have to look at the legal issues," a DOT spokesman said, citing the public nature of the ferry, which, unlike Amtrak, is free.

The agency is currently consulting with experts in maritime law to develop a policy regarding the constitutional rights of free speech, including stentorian ferry preachers and cell phone yakkers, balanced with keeping the order of the vessel. The ferry rules already prohibit disruptive noises, including loud talking and the blaring of music on the boats. But, Sen. Savino conceded, "the hard part will be enforcement." Loudness, after all, is subjective. One person's idea of a normal conversational tone of voice might sound like shouting to someone with more sensitive ears.
Still, "There are certainly enough decks that people can chatter on," Montalbano said. "At the very least, there should be no problem with designating places for those of us who also have rights, who want to be peaceful and quiet and don't want to hear proselytizing," he said.
"I think it's a potentially great idea and the ferry-riding public would be very happy with it."

Maura Yates covers transportation news for the Advance. She may be reached at myates@siadvance.com.