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Ferry Baggage Complaints Precede PSC Hearing Thursday

Oct. 10, 2006 — When a senator questioned rules for carry-on baggage last week after a public dispute on a ferry, the story resonated with a tourist who says he had a similar experience on vacation last year.
"I just find it kind of amazing that an area so dependent on tourism would have this kind of situation going on," said William Botkin of Denver, Colo., a retired AT&T employee. "It certainly didn't promote my inclination to return."
Both Botkin and Sen. Craig Barshinger claim ferry crews enforce the carry-on baggage rules inconsistently, capriciously and without regard to customer service. Sometimes passengers must pay $2 to check their bags; sometimes they're allowed to carry them on without question, they said. In part, Botkin blames poor signage and poor communication from crew members. Last week, Barshinger told the Source, "My goal is to make sure ferries run in a professional manner." (See "Sen. Barshinger Takes Ferries to Task Over Carry-On Luggage Policy.")
Barshinger said he filed a complaint about his incident with the Public Services Commission, which will hold a hearing about ferry services Thursday night. Botkin detailed his complaint in a letter.
"Months later, I don't remember exactly when, I was contacted by the Public Services Commission," Botkin said. "They asked if I wanted to appear at a hearing. Obviously that wouldn't be too handy."
The Barshinger incident happened Sept. 29 at Cruz Bay, and news reports of it caught Botkin's eye. He and his wife visited the territory a year and a half ago, and had a public dispute of their own the afternoon of May 8, 2005, while boarding the ferry at Red Hook. Two days later, Botkin detailed the incident in a letter he addressed to "Kendrick Augustine" — actually Transportation Services Manager Kenrick Augustus.
"In the process of boarding, an employee stopped my wife by grabbing her carry-on bag and pulling her backwards as she was halfway along the walkway to board," Botkin wrote. "He informed her very gruffly, 'You have to see him,' indicating another person standing on the dock.
"My wife didnt understand what was going on and asked, 'Why do I need to see him?' The employee never answered her question, but simply repeated, 'You have to see him.' Again, she asked why. At this point, the employee said, 'You are off my boat, here is your ticket!'"
Augustus acknowledges receiving the letter, which Botkin also copied to the territory's top public officials, the U.S. Coast Guard and the travel editor of the New York Times. Therein lies the rub, according to Augustus.
"He did not contact us first to ask us to help," Augustus said. "He sent the letter to the governor, the Port Authority, everybody. Which means you're implicating us, saying we're wrong without giving a good hearing to the case, sending it all over the world. If we did something wrong, give us a chance to make it better. Don't throw the book at us — what else is there for us to say?"
Augustus offered alternate versions of the incidents, arguing that both Barshinger and the Botkin brought trouble on themselves by behaving uncooperatively. According to a witness, Augustus said, the Botkins' dispute involved Mrs. Botkin's unwillingness to check a bag containing valuables, and that contrary to his description of calm behavior in the letter, Botkin actually made a scene.
"I remember the incident slightly," Augustus said. "We had a report from a bystander, who told us Mr. Botkin became belligerent, threatening to write his congressman."
Botkin, of course, tells a very different story. The bystander in Augustus' version blamed Botkin; Botkin says he felt surrounded by dumbfounded sympathizers.
"Having already boarded, I returned back down the walkway to see what was going on," Botkin wrote. "My wife was visibly shaken and I asked what was the problem. The employee said to me, 'You are both off my boat. Here is your ticket back!' I asked who he was and he replied, 'Captain Hill.' When I asked what was going on, he said, 'I will not discuss this with you any more. You are both off, and you arent going on my boat!'
"We asked him politely to please explain what was going on and he would say nothing further. Another employee tried to intercede without any success. Other passengers witnessed this incident and were shaking their heads in absolute disbelief."
Botkin wrote that later he saw a sign "in small, very dense type that described some changes to luggage policies for the ferries due to fuel-cost increases." Augustus counters that the signs were sized appropriately for the small ticket booth used at the beginning of construction on the new terminal: "If you look at that, there was not enough space for proper signage, large signage."
The conflicting versions of the Botkin incident appear to have no middle ground.
"In an incident like this, I try to get witnesses, the captain's report, the crew's report," Augustus said. "Again, I know that they're not always right — I do try to make sure that there are other perspectives. It's like the old saying, 'There are three sides to a story: your side, my side and the right side.'"
For his part, Augustus says signage and communication continue to improve, and he has begun checking into adding LED signs when the new terminal opens in December. He acknowledges that some ferry employees have a reputation for poor behavior and foul language, and says a new training partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands should help.
"Most of the people we employ are youngsters, in their early 20s and 30s," he said. "A lot of times in the past there might not have been as much training done as should have been done. We've done some training, but we're still not doing as much training as we need to do."
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Oct. 10, 2006 -- When a senator questioned rules for carry-on baggage last week after a public dispute on a ferry, the story resonated with a tourist who says he had a similar experience on vacation last year.
"I just find it kind of amazing that an area so dependent on tourism would have this kind of situation going on," said William Botkin of Denver, Colo., a retired AT&T employee. "It certainly didn't promote my inclination to return."
Both Botkin and Sen. Craig Barshinger claim ferry crews enforce the carry-on baggage rules inconsistently, capriciously and without regard to customer service. Sometimes passengers must pay $2 to check their bags; sometimes they're allowed to carry them on without question, they said. In part, Botkin blames poor signage and poor communication from crew members. Last week, Barshinger told the Source, "My goal is to make sure ferries run in a professional manner." (See "Sen. Barshinger Takes Ferries to Task Over Carry-On Luggage Policy.")
Barshinger said he filed a complaint about his incident with the Public Services Commission, which will hold a hearing about ferry services Thursday night. Botkin detailed his complaint in a letter.
"Months later, I don't remember exactly when, I was contacted by the Public Services Commission," Botkin said. "They asked if I wanted to appear at a hearing. Obviously that wouldn't be too handy."
The Barshinger incident happened Sept. 29 at Cruz Bay, and news reports of it caught Botkin's eye. He and his wife visited the territory a year and a half ago, and had a public dispute of their own the afternoon of May 8, 2005, while boarding the ferry at Red Hook. Two days later, Botkin detailed the incident in a letter he addressed to "Kendrick Augustine" -- actually Transportation Services Manager Kenrick Augustus.
"In the process of boarding, an employee stopped my wife by grabbing her carry-on bag and pulling her backwards as she was halfway along the walkway to board," Botkin wrote. "He informed her very gruffly, 'You have to see him,' indicating another person standing on the dock.
"My wife didnt understand what was going on and asked, 'Why do I need to see him?' The employee never answered her question, but simply repeated, 'You have to see him.' Again, she asked why. At this point, the employee said, 'You are off my boat, here is your ticket!'"
Augustus acknowledges receiving the letter, which Botkin also copied to the territory's top public officials, the U.S. Coast Guard and the travel editor of the New York Times. Therein lies the rub, according to Augustus.
"He did not contact us first to ask us to help," Augustus said. "He sent the letter to the governor, the Port Authority, everybody. Which means you're implicating us, saying we're wrong without giving a good hearing to the case, sending it all over the world. If we did something wrong, give us a chance to make it better. Don't throw the book at us -- what else is there for us to say?"
Augustus offered alternate versions of the incidents, arguing that both Barshinger and the Botkin brought trouble on themselves by behaving uncooperatively. According to a witness, Augustus said, the Botkins' dispute involved Mrs. Botkin's unwillingness to check a bag containing valuables, and that contrary to his description of calm behavior in the letter, Botkin actually made a scene.
"I remember the incident slightly," Augustus said. "We had a report from a bystander, who told us Mr. Botkin became belligerent, threatening to write his congressman."
Botkin, of course, tells a very different story. The bystander in Augustus' version blamed Botkin; Botkin says he felt surrounded by dumbfounded sympathizers.
"Having already boarded, I returned back down the walkway to see what was going on," Botkin wrote. "My wife was visibly shaken and I asked what was the problem. The employee said to me, 'You are both off my boat. Here is your ticket back!' I asked who he was and he replied, 'Captain Hill.' When I asked what was going on, he said, 'I will not discuss this with you any more. You are both off, and you arent going on my boat!'
"We asked him politely to please explain what was going on and he would say nothing further. Another employee tried to intercede without any success. Other passengers witnessed this incident and were shaking their heads in absolute disbelief."
Botkin wrote that later he saw a sign "in small, very dense type that described some changes to luggage policies for the ferries due to fuel-cost increases." Augustus counters that the signs were sized appropriately for the small ticket booth used at the beginning of construction on the new terminal: "If you look at that, there was not enough space for proper signage, large signage."
The conflicting versions of the Botkin incident appear to have no middle ground.
"In an incident like this, I try to get witnesses, the captain's report, the crew's report," Augustus said. "Again, I know that they're not always right -- I do try to make sure that there are other perspectives. It's like the old saying, 'There are three sides to a story: your side, my side and the right side.'"
For his part, Augustus says signage and communication continue to improve, and he has begun checking into adding LED signs when the new terminal opens in December. He acknowledges that some ferry employees have a reputation for poor behavior and foul language, and says a new training partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands should help.
"Most of the people we employ are youngsters, in their early 20s and 30s," he said. "A lot of times in the past there might not have been as much training done as should have been done. We've done some training, but we're still not doing as much training as we need to do."
Back Talk 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.