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When the owners of NY Waterway were in the market for new ferries to serve New York City commuters, they went to Allen Marine in Sitka.
In the past few years, the Southeast Alaska company has supplied five ferries to the New York company and plans to deliver four more. And NY Waterway expects to place an order for another three or four vessels, said President Arthur Imperatore Jr. The NY Waterway ferry fleet now totals 25.
"New York and Alaska don't have that much in common, but one thing we share is an extensive system of waterways and a need to get across quickly and comfortably. And ferries fit the bill," Imperatore said.
NY Waterway is the largest privately operated commuter ferry company in the country, carrying 34,000 passengers on an average weekday, according to Imperatore. The family-run business started in 1986 and now employs 300 people on its ferries and Manhattan shuttle buses.
With limited bridge and tunnel capacity in New York City and a big price tag for new roads, business at NY Waterway is expanding, Imperatore said.
"Water transportation in New York is the fastest growing sector of mass transit," he said. "Ferries have started to fill an important role in the market."
NY Waterway representatives made a trip to Sitka to test Allen Marine's vessels, Imperatore said.
Plying New York waters: A NY Waterway ferry, built in Sitka by Allen Marine, travels the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge and past Manhattan.
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"We were impressed with the product. It's a family business like ours," he said.
Many NY Waterway commuters live in New Jersey or New York's Rockland and Westchester counties, although customers also include visitors and business people from Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland who drive to New Jersey and take the ferry into Manhattan. Most of the trips are relatively short, between five and 10 minutes. NY Waterway is using Allen Marine's ferries for longer trips between 15 and 30 minutes.
Allen Marine's 85-foot catamarans now operating in New York carry about 150 passengers and travel at 28 knots. The vessels' hull design throws a low wake, making them desirable for the market, Allen Marine Vice President Tom Scheidt said. They cost about $2 million apiece.
Allen Marine used United Yacht Transport to take the ships through the Panama Canal, sending a crew to Florida to take the vessels up the East Coast, he said.
Allen Marine has about 40 employees in its shipbuilding division and also operates a tour company.
"It says a lot for the workers we have," Scheidt said. "(They're) part of our success for sure."
Allen Marine plans to start work soon on four single-hull 65-foot ferries for East River service on NY Waterway. The vessels will carry about 100 people each and be able to travel at 30 knots. The cost per vessel is about $1 million.
The new vessels will allow NY Waterway to fit into smaller niche markets, Imperatore said.
"We think it is just the right thing for us to grow our business. They're smaller, faster and less expensive," he said.
An additional order for at least three 105-foot, 150 passenger catamarans would serve a new route between Monmouth County, N.J., and Manhattan, according to NY Waterway.
The ferries from Allen Marine now in the NY Waterway fleet are named after famous Italians - Frank Sinatra, Yogi Berra, Fiorella LaGuardia, Christopher Columbus and explorer Giovanni Verazzano. The company also operates the Yankee Clipper to Yankee Stadium and the Shea Express to Shea Stadium and offers Broadway show travel packages.
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.