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PSC Approves Schedule Change, Denies Surcharge to St. Croix Ferry Franchise

Aug. 24, 2008 — Despite the oft-repeated need for year-round, reliable, affordable ferry service between St. Croix and St. Thomas, Public Services commissioners denied the request for a $4 fuel surcharge each way to V.I. SeaTrans, the St. Croix fast ferry company that filled the gap after Island Lynx dropped its trips in September 2006.
However, the commissioners did agree to a schedule change that Marjorie Smith, Sea Trans director of operations, said will save the company $5,918 in reduced fuel costs monthly.
Commissioners on Friday also agreed to revisit the surcharge request whenever Smith provided them with the formula she used to come up with the $4 one-way or $8 round-trip charge.
Smith pointed out that she had provided the commissioners with a detailed request on May 5.
She said fuel costs between July 2007 and July 2008 had skyrocketed by 73 percent.
Saying he didn’t want to be "capricious," commissioner Donald "Ducks" Cole said, "I need to see a formula."
"I take offense," Smith said. "It isn’t as if I just plopped in here with this request." The commissioners have had it since May 5. "I broke it down in the simplest form."
Smith said her biggest challenge, however, was not fuel. It was ridership.
"Everything costs money," and with the cost of fuel it was impossible to find the extra cash to run expensive marketing campaigns, she said.
However, Smith said the service — which is subsidized to the tune of $500,000 a year by the V.I. government — is crucial and important to her passengers.
The subsidy she recently received for fiscal year 2007 fell short of Sea Trans financial needs by $2,961, Smith said. And she doesn’t expect she will ever get the 2008 subsidy, despite its being appropriated.
"The people who travel on the ferry, mostly V.I. locals, can’t afford to travel any other way," Smith said.
She said she needs 45 to 50 passengers per run to "make a little profit."
Smith said the service gets 800 to 1000 passengers per month on about 64 trips, an average of just 12 to 15 passengers per run.
Several of them have volunteered, she said, to pay more than their fair share in order to assure that the service survives.
One senior citizen pays full fare, she said. "They understand the problem; their biggest fear is that we won’t make it," Smith said.
With the new schedule, four trips will be eliminated and two added.
Friday:
Depart St. Croix 7:30 a.m, arrive St. Thomas 9 a.m.
Depart St. Croix 4:30 p.m., arrive St. Thomas 6 p.m.
Depart St. Thomas 9:30 a.m., arrive St. Croix 11 a.m.
Depart St. Thomas 6:45 p.m., arrive St. Croix 8:15 p.m.
Saturday:
Depart St. Croix 12:30 p.m., arrive St. Thomas 2 p.m.
Depart St. Thomas 6:30 p.m., arrive St. Croix 8:30 p.m.
Sunday:
Depart St. Croix 12:30 p.m., arrive St. Thomas 2 p.m.
Depart St. Thomas 6:30 p.m., arrive St. Croix 8:30 p.m.
Monday:
Depart St. Croix 7:30 a.m., arrive St. Thomas 9 a.m.
Depart St. Thomas 6 p.m., arrive St. Croix 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday: (New) Depart St. Croix 7:30 a.m., arrive St. Thomas 9 a.m.
Thursday: (New) Depart St. Thomas 6 p.m., arrive St. Croix 8 p.m.
Round-trip tickets run $90 for adults and $80 for children. One-way tickets are $51 for adults and $45 for children. For more information, call 776-5494.
Commissioners in attendance at Friday’s Public Services Commission hearing were: Chairman Joseph B. Boschulte, Cole, Verne C. David, M. Thomas Jackson and Alecia Wells.

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