Problems persist for Port Jefferson ferry as summer season approaches
April 30, 2018
By Kayla Lupoli-Nolan
A rough winter season for the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Ferry company has riders worried about problems such as construction and the reservation system with the summer season fast approaching.
Issues on both sides of the Long Island Sound have hurt the ferry company since before the winter vessel schedule was implemented.
“The busy season is the summer and people get frustrated and blame the ferry or us, as reservation agents, for things just going wrong,” Charlotte Hatzel, a former reservation specialist, said.
This past fall, the company implemented new ticket and reservation systems that were meant to help passengers who are booking on the website. But many customers believe the systems are a downgrade, and have taken to the company’s Facebook page to show their displeasure.
“I’m very disappointed in both the lack of courteousness in the phone representatives, they’re always testy, and this relatively new policy where I can only make a reservation a week before my travel date,” Christa Terry, a frequent ferry passenger, said in a Facebook comment. “When I asked when February bookings would become available your representative hung up on me.”
Before the change, walk-on passengers and drivers without reservations would board the boat prior to purchasing their tickets. Once aboard the ferry, they would wait in line to purchase tickets at the help desk.
“There weren’t problems with the system itself, it was implementing the system,” Anthony Grossmann, a former deckhand on the Port Jefferson side, said. “It was a shock to all the ticket staff to learn this new system and implement as fast as they did. And then having to teach the not-so regular customers a new system.”
Transitioning from one system to the next in theory was different than how it played out for most of its users experiences.
“Sediman [Reservation System] was just not a system that worked well with the ferry,” Hatzel said. “It wasn’t user-friendly for a service business. From what I remember, there weren’t many problems with Galaxy [Reservation System.]”
The new reservation system was not the only thing that the ferry company changed in the fall.
On the Bridgeport, Connecticut side of the sound, the company reduced the amount of lots for all day parking. Originally, two lots were available for daily commuters to use each day from morning until night. But in September, the company posted notices that the lots would no longer be available once the vessel schedule changed.
The loss of the two free lots have some customers concerned about the options they have left and what to do with their cars.
“It’s almost impossible to take a day trip down to the Island now without worrying about my car,” Cameron Chu, a frequent walk-on passenger, said “You have to pay for the parking garage and take the shuttle to the dock instead of just parking in the free lot outside of the entrance. Or you park on the street and hope no one hits you.”
Imperial Parking Garage, the closest option for parking, is across from the Bridgeport train station and is $16 to park for 6 to 24 hours. The garage is open 7 days a week from 4:30 a.m. until 1:00 a.m. and customers must call the garage if they plan on picking their car up later than that.
The parking on the Port Jefferson side is not much better, Rosemarie Birbiglia, a mother who drops her son off at the ferry, said.
“During the summer you can’t park in the marina lot unless you have a Town of Brookhaven sticker,” Birbiglia said. “It would be easier for the company to have a dedicated lot for people taking weekend trips.”
The PT Barnum, one of the larger ferry boats that were being used in the two-vessel schedule, sailed from the Port Jefferson dock to the Bridgeport dock with a broken rudder on April 7. The company shifted to an emergency one-vessel schedule following the incident.
“People got really annoyed when the ferry went down,” Heather Moore, one of the passengers who was on the Barnum when it broke, said. “ I think most of the people that were angry were customers that were just hoping to drive on without a reservation.”
The PT Barnum is 300 feet by 52 feet and can hold up to 120 cars and 1,000 passengers according to the company’s website.
Construction on one of the docks is another obstacle that the company has to hurdle. The company began construction of the Port Jefferson dock during the winter season, but has continued through the spring.
The dock construction is expected to finish before the summer season.
“Any change in the schedule impacts our ability to visit with family in New York,” Terry said. “When there were more crossings available, it was easier to plan trips.”
The ferry company is currently operating under a two-vessel schedule until further notice. It is unclear whether the company will be adding a third vessel for the summer season or adding additional times to the two-vessel schedule.