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HomeNewsArchivesST. JOHN BARGE RIDERS VOW TO FIGHT FERRY FEES

ST. JOHN BARGE RIDERS VOW TO FIGHT FERRY FEES

Dec. 11, 2001 – St. John residents didn't mince words when they met Tuesday night to discuss a proposal to make riders in vehicles on barges buy passenger ferry tickets as well as pay the barge fare.
"The ferry people are very greedy," Tommy Ferrol said.
John Yates said he found the proposal ludicrous and probably illegal. He said for residents to have a choice of the barge or the ferry represented fair market competition.
On Dec. 1, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed a Senate bill that would have forced barge passengers to buy ferry tickets, extended the two existing ferry franchises to 50 years and given the companies 100 percent tax breaks. However, residents fear that senators won't let the matter die.
Indeed, Sen. Roosevelt David told the Rotary Club of St. John on Friday that he plans to rework the bill to allow the driver and one passenger to ride free, but require any other passengers on barge trips to buy ferry tickets.
David and Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole co-sponsored the vetoed bill. The prime sponsor was Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, the at-large senator whom residents expect to represent St. John's interests.
"We need to speak out loud and clear that we need our own senator," Laurie Tittle said as her fellow St. John residents thundered their applause. She wanted to know who benefitted from the bill.
"Is this an example of collusion between the senators and a private enterprise?" Tittle asked, referring to the two companies that hold the exclusive franchise for ferry service between St. Thomas and St. John, Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures.
She also wanted to know what kind of behind-the-scene deals were made among senators that resulted in the bill being passed unanimously.
About a hundred people overflowed the Legislature Building hearing room. Tittle called on them all to speak out on St. John's needs so issues such as the barge vs. ferry controversy don't keep coming up.
"We can't be bought with fish fries and free drinks," she said.
Several residents said it would be a financial hardship for them to buy ferry tickets as well as pay the barge fare.
"The people who will be hurt are the people who are committed to living here," said Marla Powell, a single mother and a teacher. She said high St. John prices force residents to shop on St. Thomas. Others said they also must commute for medical appointments, to obtain government services and for other needs that can't be met on St. John.
Iris Kern, director of The Safety Zone, said some St. John domestic violence victims can't afford to pay to go to St. Thomas for restraining orders. She fears that a deal worked out with a barge company to transport them for free will evaporate if the ferry-fee bill comes up again.
Joan Thomas outlined the travails that St. John residents faced before the barge trip became affordable some years ago. She said on St. Thomas it was hard to find a taxi driver willing to go where she needed to go, and then she had to pay about $20 to get there and back.
The round-trip barge fare is $27, $2 of that a recent surcharge that goes to the Port Authority.
Thomas questioned whether the senators understood the hardships facing St. John residents when they travel to St. Thomas. "And are St. Johnians so rich that we have to pay extra for everything?" she asked.
Several residents expressed frustration. Although they spoke loudly and clearly at several public hearings against the idea of buying ferry tickets to ride on the barge, the senators ignored their voices.
"How many times is it going to take before the collective voices of St. John are respected?" Kern wondered.
Robert O'Connor Jr. was the only person to speak out in favor of some help for the ferry companies. While he agreed with Turnbull's veto message to Liburd that the Senate overstepped its authority with the bill, he said the measure should be reworked.
"These guys struggle," O'Connor said of the ferry companies.
Government House attorney Paul Gimenez suggested that a compromise is in order.
However, "The people of St. John are not looking for a middle ground if it increases the cost," Powell said.
Gimenez said after the meeting that a compromise could impact what commercial operations pay to use the barge or it could mean increasing the ferry fares. In any event, he said, it is a matter for the Public Services Commission.
He promised that when the PSC takes up St. John matters, it will meet on St. John, and at hours convenient for residents.
Gimenez said the ferry companies have not applied to the PSC for a fare increase. But he noted that a law passed by the Senate mandates that all companies regulated by the PSC undergo rate investigations to determine whether they warrant rate increases.
He urged St. John residents to send their written opinions on matters such as this one to Government House. The fax number is 774-5379.

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Dec. 11, 2001 – St. John residents didn't mince words when they met Tuesday night to discuss a proposal to make riders in vehicles on barges buy passenger ferry tickets as well as pay the barge fare.
"The ferry people are very greedy," Tommy Ferrol said.
John Yates said he found the proposal ludicrous and probably illegal. He said for residents to have a choice of the barge or the ferry represented fair market competition.
On Dec. 1, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed a Senate bill that would have forced barge passengers to buy ferry tickets, extended the two existing ferry franchises to 50 years and given the companies 100 percent tax breaks. However, residents fear that senators won't let the matter die.
Indeed, Sen. Roosevelt David told the Rotary Club of St. John on Friday that he plans to rework the bill to allow the driver and one passenger to ride free, but require any other passengers on barge trips to buy ferry tickets.
David and Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole co-sponsored the vetoed bill. The prime sponsor was Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, the at-large senator whom residents expect to represent St. John's interests.
"We need to speak out loud and clear that we need our own senator," Laurie Tittle said as her fellow St. John residents thundered their applause. She wanted to know who benefitted from the bill.
"Is this an example of collusion between the senators and a private enterprise?" Tittle asked, referring to the two companies that hold the exclusive franchise for ferry service between St. Thomas and St. John, Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures.
She also wanted to know what kind of behind-the-scene deals were made among senators that resulted in the bill being passed unanimously.
About a hundred people overflowed the Legislature Building hearing room. Tittle called on them all to speak out on St. John's needs so issues such as the barge vs. ferry controversy don't keep coming up.
"We can't be bought with fish fries and free drinks," she said.
Several residents said it would be a financial hardship for them to buy ferry tickets as well as pay the barge fare.
"The people who will be hurt are the people who are committed to living here," said Marla Powell, a single mother and a teacher. She said high St. John prices force residents to shop on St. Thomas. Others said they also must commute for medical appointments, to obtain government services and for other needs that can't be met on St. John.
Iris Kern, director of The Safety Zone, said some St. John domestic violence victims can't afford to pay to go to St. Thomas for restraining orders. She fears that a deal worked out with a barge company to transport them for free will evaporate if the ferry-fee bill comes up again.
Joan Thomas outlined the travails that St. John residents faced before the barge trip became affordable some years ago. She said on St. Thomas it was hard to find a taxi driver willing to go where she needed to go, and then she had to pay about $20 to get there and back.
The round-trip barge fare is $27, $2 of that a recent surcharge that goes to the Port Authority.
Thomas questioned whether the senators understood the hardships facing St. John residents when they travel to St. Thomas. "And are St. Johnians so rich that we have to pay extra for everything?" she asked.
Several residents expressed frustration. Although they spoke loudly and clearly at several public hearings against the idea of buying ferry tickets to ride on the barge, the senators ignored their voices.
"How many times is it going to take before the collective voices of St. John are respected?" Kern wondered.
Robert O'Connor Jr. was the only person to speak out in favor of some help for the ferry companies. While he agreed with Turnbull's veto message to Liburd that the Senate overstepped its authority with the bill, he said the measure should be reworked.
"These guys struggle," O'Connor said of the ferry companies.
Government House attorney Paul Gimenez suggested that a compromise is in order.
However, "The people of St. John are not looking for a middle ground if it increases the cost," Powell said.
Gimenez said after the meeting that a compromise could impact what commercial operations pay to use the barge or it could mean increasing the ferry fares. In any event, he said, it is a matter for the Public Services Commission.
He promised that when the PSC takes up St. John matters, it will meet on St. John, and at hours convenient for residents.
Gimenez said the ferry companies have not applied to the PSC for a fare increase. But he noted that a law passed by the Senate mandates that all companies regulated by the PSC undergo rate investigations to determine whether they warrant rate increases.
He urged St. John residents to send their written opinions on matters such as this one to Government House. The fax number is 774-5379.