Sept. 22, 2005 Ferry service between Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and Cruz Bay, St. John, has been reduced from six to two round trips per day for the immediate future. Plagued by equipment failures, Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures the two companies that share the franchise to provide ferry service between the two islands were forced to cut back service.
The two remaining trips are timed to accommodate commuters, Kenrick C. Augustus, Transportation Services general manager, said Thursday afternoon.
"Most of the trips in the middle of the day have no one on them," Augustus said. He said the company had planned to cut back its trips during the off-season anyway, but were "forced to do it by equipment problems."
In a letter dated Sept. 12 to the Public Services Commission, the regulatory agency that oversees the franchised public ferry service, Augustus said out of the company's three vessels, two were out of commission.
Augustus said the company was trying to keep the one ferry running to get people back and forth to work and school while they worked to get their vessels running again.
In the meantime, Varlack Ventures is picking up all the service on the shorter run between Cruz Bay and Red Hook on St. Thomas, according to Augustus.
In August the ferry companies pled their case before the commission, warning that if they didn't get some financial relief there would be dire consequences. They asked for and received a $1 surcharge to offset the stupendous increase in fuel that was crippling them. The ferries have not received a fare increase in 16 years. The surcharge raised the fare to $4 one way for the Cruz Bay to Red Hook trip and $8 one way for the Cruz Bay to Charlotte Amalie run. (See "PSC Approves $1 Surcharge to Keep Ferries Afloat").
The trip between Cruz Bay and Red Hook at St. Thomas' East End takes about 20 minutes. The downtown run takes 45 minutes.
The surcharge was a stopgap measure to tide the companies over until a permanent rate increase can be approved and implemented. That is expected to take place around the first of the year. The surcharge was implemented through Dec. 31.
Augustus said the fare hikes will allow the company to purchase new vessels and maintain them.
In his letter to the PSC, Augustus wrote, "The expected cash flow increase that the rate increase will bring is going to put both Varlack Ventures and us in a much better position for asset increase and preventive vessel maintenance."
Commissioners didn't have much to say on the matter at a special PSC meeting Thursday except for Alecia Wells, who lives on St. John.
Wells said she had gone to the ferry dock to send a package to St. Thomas on the 9:15 a.m. ferry only to find it wasn't there.
But Augustus said the change in service didn't go into effect until Monday.
"Maybe it was just late," he said referring to the 9:15 a.m. ferry.
Keithley Joseph, PSC executive director, said the ferry companies were required to notify the media of changes. "They did contact the radio stations," Joseph said.
The new schedule is Cruz Bay to Charlotte Amalie daily at 7:15 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.; and Charlotte Amalie to Cruz Bay daily at 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
The Cruz Bay to Red Hook service remains the same: Red Hook to Cruz Bay daily at 6:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m., and then hourly on the hour 8 a.m. to midnight; and Cruz Bay to Red Hook runs hourly from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.