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HomeNewsArchivesFERRIES NEED EXTENDED FRANCHISE, DAVID SAYS

FERRIES NEED EXTENDED FRANCHISE, DAVID SAYS

Dec. 7, 2001 – While some residents are outraged about a Senate proposal to make barge passengers buy ferry tickets in addition to paying the barge fare, several Rotary Club of St. John members expressed greater concern Friday about another aspect of the same legislation — to extend the exclusive franchises for ferry service to 50 years from the current 35.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed the bill, which also would have given the ferry companies full tax exemptions, on Dec. 1. Speaking at the Rotary meeting Friday, Sen. Roosevelt David said the bill needs reworking but that he supports extending the franchise.
"Unless the ferry companies get help, they're going to go out of business," David told more than a dozen Rotarians gathered at the Westin Resort Beach Café for their weekly luncheon meeting. He said the companies — Transportation Services of St. John and Varlack Ventures — need the franchise extension so they can obtain financing.
This prompted Rotarian Dave Dostall to question how the senators could know what the needs of the ferry companies and the community will be in 50 years. The franchise began May 31, 1986, which means it expires in 2036.
David, a former banker, speculated that if the ferry companies were to go out of business, the banks would find a buyer so the islands would not be without service. But he also said that because the companies have provided service for decades, the government cannot allow them to fail.
While several Rotarians described the ferry service as a monopoly, David said that because there are two companies, there is competition.
Many Rotarians also seemed skeptical that an extended franchise would convince the banks to loan the ferry firms money.
As far as the ticket controversy, David said he favors allowing the driver and one passenger in a vehicle to ride for the cost of the barge fee, while requiring other passengers to buy ferry tickets. And, he said, that's what he thought he was approving when he voted for the bill on Nov. 8.
He explained that when a large number of bills was dropped on his desk the morning of the Senate session, he did not have time to check them all to see if any changes had made to the versions he had seen earlier. He said the provision for all barge riders to buy ferry tickets had been added to the ferries bill, unbeknownst to him, in the Rules Committee.
With an auction of taxi medallions to veterans coming up Dec. 19 on St. John and the two preceding days on St. Thomas and St. Croix, David also heard complaints about the number of taxis on the roads. "There are way too many taxis," Ronnie Lockhart said. "We need to stop and assess the situation."
Current taxi medallions number 1,198 on St. Thomas, 492 on St. Croix and 131 on St. John. However, Taxi Commission officials recently said that 250 on St. Thomas, 102 on St. Croix and 50 on St. John are not in use.
When Dostall asked why the taxi drivers appear to have so much political power, David told him that not only do the drivers vote, so do their families. But David commented that too many decisions are made on the basis of political considerations "instead of in the best interest of the people."
David also said he expects the GARVEE bonds that will fund the Enighed Pond commercial port and Red Hook marina projects to be floated in January. That being the case, he said, the projects should get started sometime in 2002. The bonds will be backed by future federal highway funding for the territory.

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Dec. 7, 2001 - While some residents are outraged about a Senate proposal to make barge passengers buy ferry tickets in addition to paying the barge fare, several Rotary Club of St. John members expressed greater concern Friday about another aspect of the same legislation -- to extend the exclusive franchises for ferry service to 50 years from the current 35.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed the bill, which also would have given the ferry companies full tax exemptions, on Dec. 1. Speaking at the Rotary meeting Friday, Sen. Roosevelt David said the bill needs reworking but that he supports extending the franchise.
"Unless the ferry companies get help, they're going to go out of business," David told more than a dozen Rotarians gathered at the Westin Resort Beach Café for their weekly luncheon meeting. He said the companies -- Transportation Services of St. John and Varlack Ventures -- need the franchise extension so they can obtain financing.
This prompted Rotarian Dave Dostall to question how the senators could know what the needs of the ferry companies and the community will be in 50 years. The franchise began May 31, 1986, which means it expires in 2036.
David, a former banker, speculated that if the ferry companies were to go out of business, the banks would find a buyer so the islands would not be without service. But he also said that because the companies have provided service for decades, the government cannot allow them to fail.
While several Rotarians described the ferry service as a monopoly, David said that because there are two companies, there is competition.
Many Rotarians also seemed skeptical that an extended franchise would convince the banks to loan the ferry firms money.
As far as the ticket controversy, David said he favors allowing the driver and one passenger in a vehicle to ride for the cost of the barge fee, while requiring other passengers to buy ferry tickets. And, he said, that's what he thought he was approving when he voted for the bill on Nov. 8.
He explained that when a large number of bills was dropped on his desk the morning of the Senate session, he did not have time to check them all to see if any changes had made to the versions he had seen earlier. He said the provision for all barge riders to buy ferry tickets had been added to the ferries bill, unbeknownst to him, in the Rules Committee.
With an auction of taxi medallions to veterans coming up Dec. 19 on St. John and the two preceding days on St. Thomas and St. Croix, David also heard complaints about the number of taxis on the roads. "There are way too many taxis," Ronnie Lockhart said. "We need to stop and assess the situation."
Current taxi medallions number 1,198 on St. Thomas, 492 on St. Croix and 131 on St. John. However, Taxi Commission officials recently said that 250 on St. Thomas, 102 on St. Croix and 50 on St. John are not in use.
When Dostall asked why the taxi drivers appear to have so much political power, David told him that not only do the drivers vote, so do their families. But David commented that too many decisions are made on the basis of political considerations "instead of in the best interest of the people."
David also said he expects the GARVEE bonds that will fund the Enighed Pond commercial port and Red Hook marina projects to be floated in January. That being the case, he said, the projects should get started sometime in 2002. The bonds will be backed by future federal highway funding for the territory.