Changes are afoot at the Cruz Bay ferry dock because Superior Court recently ruled that the St. John Taxi Association can no longer operate the taxi stand on what is now a month-to-month lease from the local government. Instead the V.I. Port Authority will be in charge as of Nov. 30.
“We have been given an opportunity that I believe, in the long term, is in the best interest of how this area can be managed for the community as a whole and for our visitors,” Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in a press release issued Friday.
He said the taxi service had a “natural synergy” with the ferry traffic arriving at Cruz Bay dock. Additionally the governor said the Port Authority has the staff on St. John as well as the operational experience of managing taxis, limousines and other vehicle for hire services.
How the Port Authority will do this remains unknown but board Chairman Robert O’Connor Jr. said that, to start, things will be pretty much the same as they are now with a dispatcher assigning passengers to taxis. However, he said the taxi stand will be open to all taxi drivers, not just those who belong to St. John Taxi.
O’Connor said the Port Authority hasn’t had a chance to come up with a plan since the court ruling came recently. The Port Authority only has a week before it starts dispatching taxis.
Efforts to find out when Superior Court made its ruling from the court and Government House were unsuccessful.
The person who answered the St. John Taxi Association phone in Cruz Bay, who gave his name as Paul James, said the association had no comment on the upcoming change.
Until Nov. 30, the Taxi Association has the sole right to 13 parking spaces along the Cruz Bay waterfront, according to St. John Administrator Leona Smith. They start next to the handicapped space and run toward the battery. This is the area that constitutes the taxi stand. However, taxis commonly double park in front of them. And taxis sometimes park in spaces reserved for the public and in the few public parking lots that dot Cruz Bay. And the taxi drivers congregate to wait for fares and play dominos in the Cruz Bay Park bandstand, a public facility.
O’Connor said he envisions freeing up those 13 spaces reserved for taxis so anyone can use them. In addition to taxis, staff from vacation villa management companies jockey for parking spaces near the waterfront so they can pick up guests. Some car rental companies also pick up at the dock. And residents picking up family and friends arriving on the ferry try to find a space to park while they wait for them to reach Cruz Bay.
“It can be a chaotic scene,” Smith said.
DeJongh said his administration will work in tandem with the Port Authority’s leadership team to complete the transfer agreement as efficiently as possible.
“The taxi stand in downtown Cruz Bay is located at the gateway to the island for thousands of residents and visitors who arrive and depart from St. John each day,” deJongh said. “We can ill afford a taxi operation at such a critical location that is not being operated effectively.”
The governor said transferring the ownership of the taxi stand from the central government to the Port Authority will allow the agency to request bids from taxi associations that may be interested in operating the taxi stand.
“While the court has ruled that the St. John Taxi Association must vacate the taxi stand, my administration’s greatest concern is that the Port Authority has the full ability to ensure taxi operations at the dock will be orderly and we will not witness the chaotic atmosphere of the past,” deJongh said.
Nancy Hedlund, who owns the Caribe Havens villa management company, acknowledged that some times it has been chaotic at the dock but said the key to making the current situation as well as any future situations work is consideration.
“You got to work together,” she said.
While Smith called for a plan to end the confusion at the dock, any plan will be stymied by the lack of space in the downtown area. She suggested that a long-discussed boardwalk be built from the ferry dock along the beach to the entrance to the battery, a distance of about 88 yards. She said this would allow tourists to wheel their suitcases up the boardwalk for pickup near the battery. She also suggested a boardwalk could run in the other direction toward Gallows Point so space along the beach could be utilized for picking up passengers.
Additionally an area called The Creek is only a couple-minutes’ walk or about a tenth of a mile from the ferry dock. It is a bulkhead, but until the Enighed Pond Marine Terminal opened several years ago, barges ferrying vehicles used that area. Currently tour boats bring in and pick up passengers at this location.
There have been several attempts to create a plan for Cruz Bay, including one funded by the National Park Service to help communities that serve as gateways to national parks develop a way to cope with the issues visitors bring. None of the plans got off the ground.
“We need to partner with the local government and private sector. We needed a plan like yesterday,” Smith said.