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Aggressive Vendors Cause 'Chaos' Downtown, Ferry Company Says

By Irene Plagianos | February 21, 2016 8:10pm
 Ticket sellers speak to tourists near the Staten Island Ferry. Many are calling for more a crack-down on illegal vendors.
Ticket sellers speak to tourists near the Staten Island Ferry. Many are calling for more a crack-down on illegal vendors.
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DNAinfo/Irene Plagianos

LOWER MANHATTAN — The company that runs ferry service to the Statue of Liberty is beefing up its own private security and wants help from the NYPD to squelch the "mayhem" caused by aggressive ticket sellers who harass their employees, tourists and other visitors to the The Battery or Staten Island Ferry Terminal area.

"The situation with the illegal ticket sellers has absolutely gotten out of hand," said Rafael Abreu, a spokesman for the Statue Cruises, the only company authorized to run ferry trips to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. "It's horrendous — we need more of a presence by law enforcement."

Abreu said the problem has been ballooning for the past three years, but recent violent incidents, including a tourist having his skull fractured after rebuffing an illegal vendor, are an unfortunate way for the seriousness of the issue to come to light. 

The ticket sellers are "an embarrassment and a black mark on the city's growing tourism industry," he said. "Without a surge in enforcement, it’s only a matter of time before tragedy strikes in the worst way possible."

The company has committed to having three to six private security workers each day, not only to watch over the line of tourists waiting to buy tickets to the ferry, but also help deter aggressive, illegal ticket sellers — some of whom have behaved threateningly towards their workers, Abreu said.

Two weeks ago, a 71-year-old Statue Cruise employee was shoved to the ground by a ticket seller after he heard the vendor trying to sell a couple of tourists tickets to the Statue of Liberty — something only Statue Cruises is legally authorized to do in the park.

When the employee, Mike Monaghan, intervened to tell the couple that the ticket seller was a scam, the vendor said he would punch him in the face, before he actually shoved Monaghan to the ground. Monaghan filed a complaint with the U.S. Park Police. The vendor hasn't been caught.

There's also been in-fighting among the ticket sellers, helping to add to the feeling of "chaos" in the area, Abreu said.

Abreu said the company wants tourists to know the only authorized seller of tickets in The Battery is Statue Cruises. Many of the illegal vendors are selling tickets to other ferry rides that take passengers around Liberty Island, but not actually to the Statue of Liberty.

The problem began about three years ago, after Hurricane Sandy, Abreu said. Liberty Island was closed in the wake of the storm, for about eight months.

Statue Cruises was operating tours around the Statue of Liberty, but so were other cruises.

"After Hurricane Sandy, with the Statue of Liberty closed, and damage to Battery Park, the ticket sellers started coming down here, to sell to tourists who were a little lost about what was going on and what was open and closed," Abreu said.

"Some of them still tell tourists that they can't actually go to Liberty Island, just around it, or whatever they can to get them to buy tickets."

Many of the ticket sellers, who — along with cruises around Staten Island — sell tickets to helicopter rides and other city tourist attractions, gather outside the 1 or R South Ferry subway stations, and line up outside the Staten Island Ferry.

Dominick DeRubbio, a Staten Island resident and president of the borough's Young Democrats, has become so frustrated with the throngs of ticket sellers outside of the ferry terminal in Lower Manhattan that he's started a task force with the support of Staten Island's Community Board 1 and its borough president, to combat the issue.

DeRubbio, 30, said he commutes daily on the ferry and the number and aggressiveness of the ticket sellers is now "out of control."

"It's been a problem for a couple of years, but I was sort of pushed over the edge several weeks ago when I saw two young Asian tourists being followed by a ticket vendor saying sexually explicit things, and also saw a young transgendered person get harassed by the ticket vendors, " DeRubbio said.

"I just felt like, are you kidding me, this is the way people are getting treating when they come to visit New York? It's not acceptable."

DeRubbio said he hopes elected officials and city agencies will join his task force to help find a solution to the problem.

However, critics say the only way to handle the issue is better enforcement to clamp down on the illegal sellers.

The NYPD did not immediately return request for comment.

The Parks Department said it is now planning to add 12 more Park Enforcement Patrol officers to address the issue this spring. The move comes after increasing PEP presence in the park over the summer.

In July, the department added one sergeant and four officers to The Battery, as well as four to six officers in Peter Minuit Plaza — which is the plaza in front of the Staten Island Ferry.

PEP officers have written 203 summonses for illegal vending in The Battery and Peter Minuit Plaza since July 2015, the Parks Department said. Additional summons numbers were not immediately available and the Parks Department did not comment as to whether there's been an increase in summonses.

Earlier this week, as more than 40 ticket sellers were hovering around the outside of the Staten Island Ferry, a vendor, who asked that his name not be used, said he wanted to remind people that most of the sellers are "not bad."

"There are some bad apples here," the 21-year-old from Brooklyn said. "But most of us just keep to ourselves, and do our jobs."