Quiet, Please!

Diane J. Savino

September 17, 2009

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Quiet, Please!

Staten Island Advance Editorial
Mark Hanley
September 17,2009
"Hallelujah!" . . . Rrrrrring. Rrrrrring. Rrrrrring . . . ."Waaahhh! Waaahhh! Waaahhh! Waaahhh!" . . . Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep . . .
Such noises are to make way for the sound of silence aboard the Staten Island Ferry.

Hallelujah, indeed! If it actually happens.
To make commuting easier for harried riders, "Quiet Deck" signs will be posted on the bridge decks of the city's three newest ferries. Shouting preachers, loud cell phones, wailing babies and high-tech games are to be restricted on the Guy V. Molinari, the Senator John J. Marchi and the Spirit of America.
There is room to impose the voluntary anti-noise restrictions aboard these big new vessels, according to the Department of Transportation.
Note the word "voluntary."
For now, riders will be asked, not ordered, to maintain peace and quiet on their own.
The DOT has agreed to perform the test after repeated urging by State Sen. Diane Savino. Endorsing her proposal, City Councilman Kenneth Mitchell has pledged to introduce legislation to guarantee enforcement by ferryboat crews and police.
Refuge from the din has been an elusive goal for most of the nearly 60,000 workday commuters who take the Staten Island Ferry. The DOT's rules already prohibit disruptive noises, including loud talking and the blaring of music aboard the vessels.
Before agreeing to post the quiet-please signs, the city reviewed the legal issues surrounding free speech and how it applies to public transportation. The Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak trains already have such zones. Unlike those pay-per-ride lines, the Staten Island Ferry is free.
The way preachers roam aboard the ferryboats to inspire -- or harangue, as some would say -- is a particularly sensitive matter.
To a lot of Staten Island commuters, it's the bane of their mornings and evenings -- crossing New York Harbor as unwilling members of a captive audience. Others welcome or accept the sermons on the basis of religion.
The quiet effort to improve the quality of lives one half an hour at a time won't take place on the older ferryboats, where the more open floor layouts don't easily allow for zones of isolation.
Even so, Sen. Savino is enthusiastic.
"Staten Islanders have the longest average commute in the nation and deserve the opportunity to have that commute be as peaceful and safe as possible," she said.
Echoing her words, Mitchell said: "Staten Island Ferry riders have the right to commute without being disturbed."
This was one of the chief requests by riders who returned the Ferry Report Card that was distributed recently by Sen. Savino's office.
Their fervent hope to ride in peace was reflected this week in the comments by dozens of readers on SILive, the Advance Web site.
These were among the remarks:
"Why can't the city impose quiet laws on everyone on the ferry? Why is there tolerance of those who irritate, and take advantage of others' civility?"
"Quiet zones on the ferry? Great! Too bad we can't have quiet zones on buses, trains and in public places."
"This won't be enforced. They can't even get people to not sit on the steps."
"Before you criticize with the comments [that] it can't be done, give it a chance to be tried. Bravo!"
"By creating a 'Quiet Zone,' the loudmouths might feel the rest of the boat is fair game for the high-decibel nitwits."
"Good luck getting Staten Islanders to shut up."
"This is New York City! Not the public library!"
Despite the skepticism, the option of Quiet Decks on the ferry is worth a try. The plan won't be expensive. And it just might work, at least off and on.
So the final word is: "Shhhhhhh!"