81.7 F
Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, December 3, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesVIPA Taking Another Look at Ferry Fee

VIPA Taking Another Look at Ferry Fee

April 22, 2009 — The V.I. Port Authority will reconsider whether to implement a 25-cent fee each way for certain ferry riders between Red Hook and Cruz Bay.
The proposal will be made Friday at the Port Authority's board meeting in consideration of a request from the St. John Community, according to Cassan Pancham, chairman of the VIPA board. The measure follows a vote by the V.I. Public Services Commission to increase ferry fees between the two islands.
"They asked us to look at students, seniors and people who have to travel back and forth for medical attention," Pancham said.
Fees for other passengers may still be subject to the fee, including the regular adult fare and commuter fares.
Pancham confirmed that he and VIPA Executive Director Kenn Hobson had a conversation with Gov. John deJongh Jr. in which the governor expressed concerns about the fee.
A group of St. Johnians have sent a letter to the PSC, petitioning the commission to rescind the new fees. (See "St. Johnians Ask PSC To Reconsider Ferry Rate Hike.")
The V.I. Unity Day group started its lobbying effort to limit the fees by attending a Port Authority meeting in October 2008. Along with a representative from the St. John Chamber of Commerce, members of group explained their concerns with the fees and asked the authority's board for leniency for the elderly, students and people who are sick.
Nydia Lewis, who co-chairs the group's transportation committee, brought concerns about the PSC approving the new fares to the governor at the last town meeting on St. John, according to Lorelei Monsanto, president of V.I. Unity Day.
A facilities fee is a common charge at port facilities, according to Pancham.
"This is not a unique fee," he said. "It is fee that was approved for a considerable amount of time."
The Port Authority had held off on charging the fee while the new terminal was built.
"We have a new terminal," Pancham said. "It is time to collect the fee."
The fee will only be charged on the Red Hook-to-Cruz Bay run, Pancham said, with the 50 cents being collected at the Red Hook Terminal.
If the authority acts to exempt the groups from the 50-cent round trip fee, it will only be a drop in the bucket toward minimizing transportation costs between the two islands, where the cost of a regular adult round-trip ferry ticket will climb from $10 to $14 May 1. Still, St. John residents see the proposal as a step in the right direction.
"Some movement in a positive direction is better than no movement at all," Monsanto said.
There are plans afoot to coordinate with the ferry companies to implement a turnstile system, and a meeting is expected to take place within the next week, according to Dale Gregory, the authority's engineering director.
Rather than having two turnstiles at the facility — one for the ferry companies, as discussed in the PSC hearing that implemented the rate hike, and one to collect the Port Authority's fee — the two entities are looking at having one system that could collect both fees.
"We have a meeting set with the ferry operators so we can coordinate our efforts," Gregory said.
The Port Authority has already met with one of the ferry companies and will meet with both within the next week.
"We need to have both companies involved in the discussion," Gregory said.
Although he got the nod to order the turnstiles at last month's Port Authority Board meeting, Gregory is waiting for the outcome of the meeting.
"Hopefully we can cooperate and save both of us some money," Gregory said.
If the proposed Port Authority concession can make a small dent in transportation expenses for St. Thomas-St. John ferry riders, local and federal subsidies for the ferry companies could make a substantial difference in taking the burden off riders.
Local subsidies are available to the ferry companies, and one of the franchisees received $265,000 in 2008, according to Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls.
Transportation Services of St. John received the funding, according to its attorney, Claudette V. Ferron.
Federal funds are also available. In 2007 Small's department applied for, but did not receive, ferryboat funding through a competitive grant program offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. DPW will submit documents again this year for the grant, Smalls said.
Just one of the franchisees has submitted the necessary documentation for the funding so far this year. Smalls declined to say which franchisee had submitted the paperwork.
Each year 1.5 to 2 million people ride the ferries, according to Ferron.
"The ferryboats are designated as mass-transit providers," she said.
The designation helps the V.I. government receive federal funds for transportation.
As a mass-transit provider, the companies are subject to oversight by the PSC, which regulates rates. But while the PSC can proscribe the ferry rates, it does not provide assistance with procuring subsidies.
According to a PSC statement, "PSC involvement in federal and local subsidy funding for the ferryboat companies … is by law, strictly between the Virgin Islands government and the legislative executive branch."
Two private family companies are being forced to bear the cost of public transportation at below-cost rates and using their own equipment, because the public transportation system in the territory is not being subsidized in the same the way it is subsidized in every other jurisdiction in the United States, according to Ferron.
The ferry companies "haven't gotten one federal dollar, not a single dime from federal mass-transit funds," she said. "The government is receiving monies that should be going to the ferryboats. They don't give any of their mass-transit funding to their main mass-transit provider."
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.