June 27, 2008 — Starting July 6, commuters are going to be seeing fewer ferry runs from St. Thomas to St. John and less money in their pockets after paying their fares, thanks to a ruling by the Public Services Commission during an emergency meeting Thursday on St. Thomas.
An extra $1.10 fuel surcharge will be tacked onto all passenger tickets, including regular $5 tickets, $3 commuter tickets, $2.50 bulk tickets, $1.50 student tickets, $1.25 senior tickets, and the $1 fare for children under age 12. (See "PSC Asked for Emergency Hearing on Ferry Fare Hike.")
The surcharge is in effect until the PSC completes its rate investigation on the franchise ferry companies, which board members said might not be complete until January 2009. With the surcharge in place, monthly losses for Varlack Ventures Inc. would be cut down from $446,528 to about $91,616, according to the company's financials.
The PSC is going to be keeping tabs on how revenues garnered for the surcharge are going to be used, said PSC board chairman Joseph Boschulte.
"It's not for you guys to use to do whatever — it's solely to help offset fuel costs," he added.
The ferries original request was for a $2 surcharge. Taking into account the average ticket price, the ferries' total ridership and the amount of revenues coming in, $1.10 was the best compromise, added board member Donald "Ducks" Cole, who made the motion to approve the surcharge.
Until the beginning of November, both Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures will only be making runs during the week from Cruz Bay to Charlotte Amalie at 7:15 a.m. and 3:45 p.m., and from Charlotte Amalie to Cruz Bay at 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. During the weekend, the Cruz Bay to Charlotte Amalie ferry will run at 11:15 a.m., with a return trip running at 1 p.m.The 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. runs from Cruz Bay to Red Hook have also been eliminated, along with the 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. runs from Red Hook to Cruz Bay.
Heavy traffic from both sets of ports usually occurs from late November to April, according to Varlack Ventures principal Delrise Varlack. In the meantime, the number of passengers — particularly those running the route between Cruz Bay and Charlotte Amalie — could be "counted on one hand," she said.
The reduced weekday schedule should save Transportation Services about $127,677 in projected fuel costs, while the reduced weekend schedule should save the company nearly $63,810, for a total projected savings of $191,487, according to the company's financials.
An additional 50-cent per bag charge will also be added for passengers making the run from Cruz Bay to Charlotte Amalie. Though one ferry representative said the luggage charge should be doubled from the current $2 per bag fare because the trek to Charlotte Amalie to Cruz Bay is longer, PSC board members said they had to look at what customers could afford.
"The cost of fuel is increasing, and Im not opposed to cutting off those runs that you call frivolous," said board member M. Thomas Jackson. "We have to balance out the needs of the community and you guys being able to make an efficient run."
While the PSC is aware that subsidies are needed to cover the increasing costs of fuel, ferry companies should also submit monthly data to the PSC to show whether or not ridership is declining, added Boschulte.
Board members present during Thursday's meeting were Boschulte, Cole, Verne C. David, Jackson and Alecia Wells. Absent was board member Sirri Hamad and ex-officio members Sens. Juan Figueroa-Serville and Basil Ottley Jr.
Editors note: The Source previously reported that the changes to the ferry schedule and the addition of the fuel surcharge go into effect July 1. The changes go into effect on July 6.
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