May 5, 2006 – Come Monday, getting back and forth between St. John and St. Thomas on the barge will get a more expensive.
Currently, the $2 round trip per vehicle V.I. Port Authority charge is included in the amount the driver pays to the barge employee collecting the fares. However, on Monday, the Port Authority will increase the fees and will station a fee collector at the Red Hook, St. Thomas end of the trip to collect its money. No fees will have to be paid on the Cruz Bay side.
The Port Authority announced this week that the fee will now be $4 for cars, small and medium SUVs, and motorcycles. It will be $6 for pick-up trucks, vans and larges SUVs.
The fee is $20 for heavy trucks and equipment. Containers 20 feet and under will be charged $20, with those over 20 feet paying $30.
The fee for the other vehicle category is $6.
However, Port Authority board chairman Robert O'Connor Jr. said Friday that the fees will be reduced from $4 to $3 for cars, small and medium SUVs and motorcycles. He said the $6 truck charge will also be cut, but he didn't have the number.
O'Connor also said that the $20 truck charge will only have to be paid once a day no matter how many trips a truck makes back and forth between Red Hook and Cruz Bay.
Port Authority spokesman Carol Henneman said that the agency has hired two people to collect fees at Red Hook. She said they'll wear uniforms to identify themselves and will approach the vehicles rather than having the drivers get out.
Sen. Craig Barshinger has called a meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Westin Resort and Villas to discuss the new fee. He called on the Port Authority to rescind it until the agency discusses the matter with the public.
He said that the Port Authority did not properly notify people of the pending increase. A display ad appeared in the pages of a local newspaper announcing the increase.
"This is unjust to the people of St. John. This is a monumental increase," Barshinger said.
Barshinger and St. John Administrator Julien Harley both spoke about the impact on St. John residents. While the increase on passenger vehicles and small trucks isn't that great, it will pinch the pocketbooks of St. John residents already paying a hefty charge to get to St. Thomas. Barge fares run around $50 round trip depending on the company and the day of the week.
And Barshinger and Harley both said that businesses with goods coming over on trucks will have to pass the increase on to customers.
Both also spoke about the increase in Port Authority fees coming on the heels of the permanent increase in ferry fares.
"That's two things happening at the same time," Harley said.
This week, the Public Services Commission agreed to make permanent most of the ferry fares increases initially approved Feb. 1. Adult passengers now pay $5 each way between Cruz Bay and Red Hook, with commuters paying $3, students $1.50, children $1, and seniors $1.25. Bulk tickets cost $2.50.
Fares between Cruz Bay and Charlotte Amalie are now $10 for adults, $6 for commuters, $3.50 for students, $3 for children, and $5 for seniors. Bulk tickets are $8.
Luggage now costs $2 for each piece.
Barshinger said that the PSC made permanent the rate increases without any examination of the ferry company's books to determine if the increase was justified.
"If you have a franchise, the books have to be totally open," he said.
Barshinger was particularly incensed that the Port Authority decided to increase its barge fee without airing it at a public hearing.
O'Connor justified the increases by saying the Port Authority needs the money to be self-supporting. He said the amount of increases was based on figures determined by a consultant.
He said that if government officials don't want to see increases, the Legislature needs to make appropriations to the Port Authority.