Most people state that variety fuels competition and competition is always a good thing for the consumer. The forms of transportation between islands are rare and expensive. However, currently there are only three options (and on occasion two) for getting back and forth from St. Thomas to St. Croix and each of the options is expensive.
It's great news that the ferry service between islands has once again started. Currently, we have Seaborne, Cape Air and the Links Ferry Service. It is especially nice that the ferry service allows mass transportation of people from St. Thomas to St. Croix for big functions like Carnival, Agricultural Fair, various sporting events, concerts, etc.
My hope is that the residents of the Virgin Islands take advantage of this new ferry service. The more we support all the services, the easier it will be for the companies to keep their prices down. However, while the residents should do their part, the government also needs to do its share.
A few months ago Lieutenant Governor Richards gave a large contract to American Eagle worth over $399,999. The contract at P&P has information concerning the minimum revenue amount of $3,140 per round trip flight. There were three flights between St. Thomas and St. Croix each day. This contract guaranteed the airline more than $65,000 a week $260,000 a month, totaling, about $1 million by the completion of the contract.
Although the lieutenant governor's rationale for giving the contract to American Eagle is understandable to some, given our past history with American Eagle, and the fact they bailed on us previously, it is my opinion that this money could have been better spent on giving a $133,333 contract to Seaborne, Cape Air and the ferry service, two companies that have remained committed to the territory and one start-up, in providing services between the two islands.
Although, I do not agree with the concept of guaranteed seats, if this was the objective, any of the current three modes of transportation could have met the requirement to provide a certain number of seats for government workers. I disagree with the proposed contract and guaranteed seats. An alternative method could have been purchasing bulk tickets of $133,333 from each carrier.
The various government departments could have picked which mode of transportation the department would like to use (considering not every one likes to fly). On second thought, if the $399,999 had been given to the Port Authority, the Authority could have used those funds as credit towards reducing the costs each transporter is required to pay, thereby decreasing the cost of doing business.
While I don't have all the facts as to why Lt. Gov. Richards did what he did, I can say that we all make mistakes and it appears that this was a mistake on his part. Maybe his reasons were tied to increasing tourism or increasing transportation between islands. Regardless of his reasoning, the government should work from within rather than bringing in companies or people whose objectives are not in the best interest of the territory.
The government should consider assisting local companies so that inter-island transportation is better, more reliable, and more cost effective. The initial outcry from the American Eagle contract generated heated debate during the first few months; however, where have we been the last few weeks on the documentation of the contract?
Our attention span is short. Questions about the contract still have not been addressed, questions such as why the contract has not been made available for the public to review; questions as to why the contract was not put out on bid.
Instead of answers, all discussions about the contract have stopped. In the Virgin Islands, we love to talk about various problems (crime, education, roads, transportation, environment) however, within a few days we forget and go about our business waiting for the next hot topic. Generally most topics or problems disappear off the radar screen in hopes that all will be well. As a community we must stay aggressive and continue to demand answers until issues that impact the territory are bought to a satisfactory end.
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