NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Two multi-million dollar ferries have been sitting idle for over a year and will continue to sit a little longer, despite the fact that both boats are expected to pass their final inspections Wednesday (June 26), according to Metal Shark Boats, the company who built them.
Frustrated over the delays, City Council took steps to have a larger say in ferry operations by forming an oversight committee.
Council members vented anger as they approved the committee, in hopes the state of the art passenger ferries would be in the water and operational as soon as possible. For the past year, the boats have been docked on the Westbank levee in Algiers, awaiting improvements ordered by the RTA.
Many commuters like Robert Theard rely on the ferries to bring them to work or school, and the delays have left them feeling frustrated and overlooked.
“It shows how we manage money in this state," Theard said. “That’s what it shows.”
Inspectors were on board the vessels, named the RTA One and RTA Two, Wednesday (June 26), for what one Metal Shark official said could be a final check. But the fact that these expensive ferries have sat idle for more than a year is causing concern among residents and city leaders alike, including Councilwoman Kristen Gisleson Palmer, who spoke in favor of the new committee.
“I believe the reason these boats are not in the water is that we haven’t had sufficient oversight,” Palmer said.
The City Council transportation committee approved the oversight committee, which would also address ongoing problems with the existing ferries that are not operating as reliably as many would like.
Katherine Garrett said she also relies on the ferries to commute to and from the city and said the issue should have been long resolved.
“It’s a shame, we should have had these a year ago,” Garrett said.
Instead, passengers are having to rely on older rusting ferries, built in 1947 that are frequently breaking down, causing significantly longer commutes.
“You’re out of luck, you take the bus, and it takes a lot longer,” Palmer said.
As the ferries continue to sit idle on the west bank of the river, Palmer -- who represents Algiers -- said their continued problems are also causing an economic impact.
“If you wanted to consider lost wages, people not getting to work, it has a multiplier effect,” Palmer said.
The president of Metal Shark said the boats were delivered as ordered over a year ago and approved by the Coast Guard. But, he said the RTA asked for changes in lifesaving equipment, rust resistant fittings and improved fuel gauges -- work which RTA officials said is now done, according to interim director Jared Munster.
“Metal Shark reported to us that all the repairs are completed,” Munster said.
But putting these new ferries in operation will likely take longer, a frustrating fact for many commuters.
“This is disgusting,” Garrett said.
Though inspections are said to be wrapping up, Metal Shark’s president said the RTA must still train crew members to operate the vessels, per coast guard standards. That could take several days, if not weeks, but Metal Shark said the new ferries -- which coast $5 million each -- are now complete and ready for service.