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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Dear Source,
Your recent articles on the cutbacks in Vitran service illustrate once again how the people of the Virgin Islands are forced to suffer due to poor management and even poorer oversight by top government officials.
The importance of a viable and effective public transportation system cannot be overlooked or sacrificed by inept politicians. Public transportation provides a necessary service to many Virgin Islanders.
Many who can not afford a vehicle, or who cannot afford the new, mandatory automobile insurance must rely on public transportation to get to work, to get
their children to school and to other "everyday" activities.
Government officials may say there are other alternatives, such as taxis or safaris which will "fill in" until the bus system can be restored. That
may be true in some cases but not all. Residents who live in many parts of the islands are not served by either of the "options." For example, some who live in Bordeaux have no safaris servicing in that area. And they have little hope of getting a taxi to pick them up or take them home. Speaking from personal experience, I can say it is almost impossible (there are a few exceptions) to get a taxi to take a single passenger from Charlotte Amalie to Bordeaux. Call any, call all of the taxi operators and you will be told the same thing – "no one is available at this time." What they should be saying is no one wants to go out there.
Other parts of the islands are equally unpopular with the licensed taxis so the residents are left with few options. And if for some unexplainable reason a taxi is willing to venture out to the "unpopular" areas, the cost is considerably higher that than of Vitran.
Another consideration for public transportation is the key role it can and should be playing in dealing with the ever worsening traffic congestion problem on the islands. Any feasible plan to address the congestion problems includes adequate and affordable public transportation.
Vitran employees are also forced to suffer. It is reported that they have offered to forego sick leave, overtime and holiday pay so that they can continue to work and continue to provide this needed service to the people of the islands. All government workers have for years been making concessions when it comes to pay and benefits.
The fact that the Vitran employees are willing to do it yet again is admirable. They should be rewarded for the efforts and not held accountable for the questionable actions of others.
A drop in ridership is cited as one of the reasons for the cutback is services.
If memory serves me, farebox money is only a very small portion of the Vitran budget so any drop should have a nominal impact. It seems I remember that a large portion of the Vitran budget is federally funded with the remainder coming from local sources. So if a cutback is necessary, one should look at those funding sources and how they were spent to find the real reasons for the "need" to curtail Vitran services. It would not be surprising to find that the monies had be diverted into another one of the government's funds.
Explaining the drop in ridership, James O'Bryan, public relations assistant to the governor, was quoted in the Source saying there has been "a steady decline" over the last two years in Vitran ridership territory wide. What had been "seven or eight thousand a day is now down to three to five thousand," he said.
O'Bryan attributed some of that decline to the competition from taxis and safaris.
What would O'Bryan say if asked if the safaris meet the federal standards for vehicles used for public transportation? Tito Morales, president of the Central Labor Council, has for a long time been telling government officials that safaris do not meet those federal requirements and that the VI government is licensing them in violation of federal law. How would O'Bryan describe the government's liability – having licensed those vehicles – should one of them be involved in an accident and, God forbid, people are killed and injured? The government is cracking down on other "illegal" vehicles such as gypsy taxis and uninsured motorists, why not crack down on all illegal vehicles?
There is talk of privatizing Vitran. Would it really be possible to find a company willing to come into the islands knowing it had to compete against the safaris and gypsy taxis which regularly cruise the Vitran routes to pick up passengers? Could a company survive without federal and local subsidies. How much would the government actually save?
The role of government is to provide basic, necessary services for the benefits of all the territory's residents. An affordable, efficient public
transportation systems is one of the basic services to which Virgin Islanders are entitled.
Scott Frank

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