The $262,400 tram taxpayers funded through Borough President Helen Marshall’s office has seen little usage since it was acquired in 2008 for Fort Totten and has been out of commission this summer at the Bayside park.
The open-air vehicle, which seats 40, was purchased to make it easier for visitors to get around the 50-acre park. But there were problems from the start.
Mechanical issues first sidelined the vehicle and then the fuel tank had to be enlarged because it’s powered by compressed natural gas. If the tank had remained its original size, the tram would have had to have been transported frequently to a fueling station off-site at Flushing Meadows Park.
There was also talk about installing gas tanks at the park, but that was vehemently opposed by the community due to safety concerns and dropped.
The tram was supposed to operate from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekends until the end of June and daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. after that through Labor Day.
Asked what had happened to the tram this year, the Parks Department sent the following comment: “A 16-seat electric cart currently provides transportation for senior swim classes and during special events. Operating the cart is more efficient than the tram as it uses fewer staff and does not require special fuel to be brought in.”
But area residents are not satisfied with the answer. Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said the tram only needs one operator, and he wonders why so much money was spent on purchasing and then retrofitting it when “now they’re not even using it.”
Joe Branzetti, president of Friends of Fort Totten Parks, said he was told by Parks workers that there was not enough staff to run the tram. “They are trying to save money, but why spend so much originally on the tram?” he asked.
The borough president was not happy with the developments. Marshall said she would look into how and when the tram is being utilized and reminded Parks that her office provided nearly $300,000 for it.
So what is the future for the beleaguered tram? Parks officials say it’s now undergoing annual maintenance and will be used for any events requiring a 40-person vehicle.
But they did not specify if it ever would be used again at Fort Totten.