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Ferry Fare Increase Undecided

Oct. 26, 2005 – Nobody at the Public Services Commission meeting Wednesday doubted a fare increase was going to come for the ferry ride between St. John and St. Thomas, but the amount of that increase won't be known until the PSC's November meeting.
The delay on a decision about a fare hike that has been under discussion for months is due to the lack of audited financial reports.
"I am rather perplexed," Ray Jackson, the hearing examiner for the rate increase, said about the situation.
Jackson said the information he received showed that a hike was needed, but because of the lack of accurate, up-to-date financial records, he found it difficult to say what that hike should be. He said the most recent material he received from the two ferry companies — Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services of St. John — was for fiscal year 2003.
Jackson indicated that for the ferry companies to be so far behind in financial reports was a worrisome sign.
However, Claudette Ferron, an attorney representing the ferry companies, said the companies had submitted all the financial information to an accountant but the accountants were busy and could not quickly generate the necessary reports. Representatives of the ferry companies said they expected the financial reports completed within two to four weeks.
Jackson said that he would like to see the financial reports within 10 days so he could make a recommendation to the commission at its Nov. 29 meeting.
"Maybe you should hire another accountant and fire your attorney," commission member Verne David jokingly suggested to the ferry companies.
Commission member Alecia Wells went into a 10-minute tirade about what she saw as bad service on ferries between St. Thomas and St. John. She said she takes the ferry every day and passengers are "treated terribly."
Her main complaint was that passengers were never informed which boat was leaving next and they had to wander about until they found the right vessel.
"It is so frustrating," Wells said of the ferry employees. "They could act with more professionalism."
Ferron responded that the ferry companies were not making any money and were actually subsidizing public transportation.
Commissioner David said the companies were paying the price for years of "non-compliance" with regulations.
"This commission wants to work with the ferry companies, but we can't pull a fare out of the air," said Alric Simmonds, chairman of the PSC.
At the beginning of the meeting there was a discussion about the appearance of conflict of interest for Jackson, the hearing examiner, because his wife worked at Cruzan Excursions, a competitor to the ferries.
David assured Ferron that the commission had done a good job in selecting Jackson as the hearing examiner.
Ferron suggested the commission could set an interim fare increase that was tied to the Consumer Price Index. She added that, though that was logical, it would be a higher increase than the companies were requesting.

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