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HomeNewsArchivesFERRY SURCHARGE FOR BARGE RIDE RAISES PROTESTS

FERRY SURCHARGE FOR BARGE RIDE RAISES PROTESTS

Nov 30, 2001 – One of six bills lying on Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's desk with a Saturday midnight deadline for action contains a provision which has caught St. John residents by surprise — and they would like nothing better than for the governor to veto it.
The bill, sponsored by Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd and his colleagues Roosevelt David and Donald "Ducks" Cole, would require anyone in a vehicle being transported on a barge between St. Thomas and St. John to buy a ferry ticket first — in addition to paying the barge fee.
The provision was an amendment to the bill, which initially dealt with extending the franchises for passenger service held by Transportation Services of St. John and Varlack Ventures. The amendment was made in the Rules Committee on Oct. 29, and the bill passed unanimously on the Senate floor on Nov. 8.
Liburd lives on St. John and as the territory's at-large senator is the island's de facto representative; David has business interests on the island and lived there for many years before moving to St. Thomas. Both of them backed off on the provision Friday, saying what the bill says is not what they intended.
They said the measure was supposed to state that the driver of a vehicle and one passenger could ride in the vehicle without buying a ferry ticket, but somehow that provision was overlooked when the bill was amended in the Rules Committee. "It has to be revisited," David said Friday.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley, who said Thursday that he had been unaware that the Senate had approved such a bill, said Friday that he had made residents' objections known to the governor's staff. "I let them know how people feel," he said.
Liburd, who was the initial sponsor of the bill before David and Cole signed on as co-sponsors, said he was aware that many St. John residents are against paying the fare. But he said he was trying to find a middle ground to protect the ferry companies' franchise when he sponsored the bill. "Not every decision is going to have total support," he said.
Cole was off island and could not be reached for comment. He said at an October Government Operations Committee meeting addressing the ferry companies' complaints that the Legislature might not be the proper venue to deal with disputes between the ferry and barge companies.
Commercial costs will be passed on to consumers
Many of those who initiate travel from St. Thomas to St. John are commercial suppliers — who will pass the increased costs on to consumers, so St. John residents ultimately will be paying for that additional cost.
"When you consider how hard times are since Sept. 11, it just adds more to the cost of doing business," said Marty Pickholtz, owner of wholesaler Prime Foods on St. Thomas.
His trucks board barges six days a week laden with food for St. John stores and restaurants. While he said he probably won't pass the cost along immediately to his customers, he figured it would cost him an additional $3,744 a year for his driver and assistant.
St. John businessman Jose Penn, whose family business, Penn Trucking, uses the barges to transport its trucks from St. John to the Bovoni dump on St. Thomas and back, said, "This has been coming for a long time" because the ferries have the franchise for exclusive transportation of passengers. Acknowledging that the popularity of the barges has affected ferry company revenues and expressing his view that barge fares are "priced kind of low," he added, "Something's got to give."
The bill states that each barge passenger must have an actual ferry ticket: "Any vessel engaged in the transportation of freight shall be prohibited from transporting passengers between St. Thomas and St. John without each passenger traveling aboard such vessel presenting a ticket for carriage obtained from one of the companies engaged in the public marine transportation between St. Thomas and St. John pursuant to an exclusive franchise provided by law and regulated by the [Public Services] Commission."
Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures have complained to senators of losing money because of people riding in vehicles on the barges — not only family, friends and associates, but passengers aboard safari buses and workers in trucks bound for construction sites. The two companies began pushing for this provision in 1998, but when the issue came up at the Public Services Commission, which regulates the ferries, residents demanded that they not be charged a fee. They thought the matter was dead.
Barge fees were as much as $50 round trip several years back, but competition brought the price down to $25 until a few months ago, when the Port Authority tacked on a $2 round-trip surcharge. With travel by barge having become affordable, trekking to St. Thomas has become a way of life for many St. John residents to buy groceries and other supplies, visit doctors and dentists, and obtain many other services not available on St. John. If the bill is signed into law, the payment of the ferry fare will add $6 round trip for every person 12 years of age or older in a vehicle. For children under 12, it will be $2.
Residents question rationale and logistics
The idea does not sit well with St. John residents. "It's extortion," Elissa Runyon said. "Most people who live on St. John work for a living," she said, adding that she could not think of any other civil comments to make.
Steve Black, who has called for a town meeting within two weeks on the matter, said that to buy a ferry ticket to ride the barge would be paying for a service not received.
Bonny Corbeil termed it a sneaky way for the ferry companies to get money. "It's a perfect example of how poorly managed the ferry system is," she said.
"I'll have to give a whole lot more thought to making trips," Kathy Demar, who often takes the barge to St. Thomas with her husband, said.
Black and Runyon were among those questioning the logistics of forcing barge passengers to buy ferry tickets. "It sounds like an administrative nightmare," Runyon said. Black wondered whether the ferry companies would set up booths on St. John at the Creek, where the barges depart, or force passengers to trek two blocks to the ferry dock to buy their tickets. Since the barges and the ferries do not depart on the same schedules, he said, drivers and their passengers could see their vehicles leave for St. Thomas without them as they scrambled to get ferry tickets.
In its other provisions, the bill extends the ferry companies' franchises to 50 years from 30. The franchises took effect on May 31, 1986, and would thus have 35 more years to run. The bill also gives the ferry companies a 100 percent exemption from franchises taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, income tax surcharge on corporations, and U.S. Customs duties. "It's amazing they're letting them not pay taxes," Demar said.

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Nov 30, 2001 - One of six bills lying on Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's desk with a Saturday midnight deadline for action contains a provision which has caught St. John residents by surprise -- and they would like nothing better than for the governor to veto it.
The bill, sponsored by Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd and his colleagues Roosevelt David and Donald "Ducks" Cole, would require anyone in a vehicle being transported on a barge between St. Thomas and St. John to buy a ferry ticket first -- in addition to paying the barge fee.
The provision was an amendment to the bill, which initially dealt with extending the franchises for passenger service held by Transportation Services of St. John and Varlack Ventures. The amendment was made in the Rules Committee on Oct. 29, and the bill passed unanimously on the Senate floor on Nov. 8.
Liburd lives on St. John and as the territory's at-large senator is the island's de facto representative; David has business interests on the island and lived there for many years before moving to St. Thomas. Both of them backed off on the provision Friday, saying what the bill says is not what they intended.
They said the measure was supposed to state that the driver of a vehicle and one passenger could ride in the vehicle without buying a ferry ticket, but somehow that provision was overlooked when the bill was amended in the Rules Committee. "It has to be revisited," David said Friday.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley, who said Thursday that he had been unaware that the Senate had approved such a bill, said Friday that he had made residents' objections known to the governor's staff. "I let them know how people feel," he said.
Liburd, who was the initial sponsor of the bill before David and Cole signed on as co-sponsors, said he was aware that many St. John residents are against paying the fare. But he said he was trying to find a middle ground to protect the ferry companies' franchise when he sponsored the bill. "Not every decision is going to have total support," he said.
Cole was off island and could not be reached for comment. He said at an October Government Operations Committee meeting addressing the ferry companies' complaints that the Legislature might not be the proper venue to deal with disputes between the ferry and barge companies.
Commercial costs will be passed on to consumers
Many of those who initiate travel from St. Thomas to St. John are commercial suppliers -- who will pass the increased costs on to consumers, so St. John residents ultimately will be paying for that additional cost.
"When you consider how hard times are since Sept. 11, it just adds more to the cost of doing business," said Marty Pickholtz, owner of wholesaler Prime Foods on St. Thomas.
His trucks board barges six days a week laden with food for St. John stores and restaurants. While he said he probably won't pass the cost along immediately to his customers, he figured it would cost him an additional $3,744 a year for his driver and assistant.
St. John businessman Jose Penn, whose family business, Penn Trucking, uses the barges to transport its trucks from St. John to the Bovoni dump on St. Thomas and back, said, "This has been coming for a long time" because the ferries have the franchise for exclusive transportation of passengers. Acknowledging that the popularity of the barges has affected ferry company revenues and expressing his view that barge fares are "priced kind of low," he added, "Something's got to give."
The bill states that each barge passenger must have an actual ferry ticket: "Any vessel engaged in the transportation of freight shall be prohibited from transporting passengers between St. Thomas and St. John without each passenger traveling aboard such vessel presenting a ticket for carriage obtained from one of the companies engaged in the public marine transportation between St. Thomas and St. John pursuant to an exclusive franchise provided by law and regulated by the [Public Services] Commission."
Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures have complained to senators of losing money because of people riding in vehicles on the barges -- not only family, friends and associates, but passengers aboard safari buses and workers in trucks bound for construction sites. The two companies began pushing for this provision in 1998, but when the issue came up at the Public Services Commission, which regulates the ferries, residents demanded that they not be charged a fee. They thought the matter was dead.
Barge fees were as much as $50 round trip several years back, but competition brought the price down to $25 until a few months ago, when the Port Authority tacked on a $2 round-trip surcharge. With travel by barge having become affordable, trekking to St. Thomas has become a way of life for many St. John residents to buy groceries and other supplies, visit doctors and dentists, and obtain many other services not available on St. John. If the bill is signed into law, the payment of the ferry fare will add $6 round trip for every person 12 years of age or older in a vehicle. For children under 12, it will be $2.
Residents question rationale and logistics
The idea does not sit well with St. John residents. "It's extortion," Elissa Runyon said. "Most people who live on St. John work for a living," she said, adding that she could not think of any other civil comments to make.
Steve Black, who has called for a town meeting within two weeks on the matter, said that to buy a ferry ticket to ride the barge would be paying for a service not received.
Bonny Corbeil termed it a sneaky way for the ferry companies to get money. "It's a perfect example of how poorly managed the ferry system is," she said.
"I'll have to give a whole lot more thought to making trips," Kathy Demar, who often takes the barge to St. Thomas with her husband, said.
Black and Runyon were among those questioning the logistics of forcing barge passengers to buy ferry tickets. "It sounds like an administrative nightmare," Runyon said. Black wondered whether the ferry companies would set up booths on St. John at the Creek, where the barges depart, or force passengers to trek two blocks to the ferry dock to buy their tickets. Since the barges and the ferries do not depart on the same schedules, he said, drivers and their passengers could see their vehicles leave for St. Thomas without them as they scrambled to get ferry tickets.
In its other provisions, the bill extends the ferry companies' franchises to 50 years from 30. The franchises took effect on May 31, 1986, and would thus have 35 more years to run. The bill also gives the ferry companies a 100 percent exemption from franchises taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, income tax surcharge on corporations, and U.S. Customs duties. "It's amazing they're letting them not pay taxes," Demar said.