April 17, 2009 — St. Johnians opposed to the V.I. Public Service Commission's recent decision to hike ferry rates filed an official request for reconsideration that was received by the PSC Thursday.
Reasons for the request were outlined in an eight-page letter from the Virgin Islands Unity Day Group, Inc. to PSC chairman Joseph Boschulte.
The commission voted earlier this month to raise fares. (See: "PSC Rescinds Ferry Fuel Surcharge, Approves Rate Increase.")
Fees between Cruz Bay and Red Hook will go from $5 to $7 for adults, from $1 to $2 for a child, from $1.25 to $2 for a senior, from $3 to $5 for commuters, from $2.50 to $4 for bulk tickets, from $1.50 to $2 for students, and from $2 to $3 for baggage.
Unity Day President Lorelei Monsanto said she believes that about 20 percent of St. Johnians work or go to school every day on St. Thomas.
Asked for an official comment regarding the group's request, the PSC said in a statement that it has 20 days to respond to their rate reconsideration application and will do so when a quorum is assembled.
The letter sets out a list of seven errors that the group found with the PSC's decision.
"The PSC erred in approving rates that are discriminatory, unjust and unreasonable and therefore unlawful," the letter stated. It also cited errors based on what the group claims is the PSC's reliance upon incomplete and unsubstantiated franchisee financial records, inclusion of ineligible expenses of franchise holders, and approving rates of return greater than eight percent. The letter also claims that the PSC erred in its decision by not assessing alternatives to increasing rates in order to ensure reasonable rates of return for the franchisees.
The group's letter was careful to provide basis for the group's standing, stating that the members of the organization are St. John users of the ferries, and further noted that its request was made within the required 30 days of the PSC's April 1 decision.
Pointing out that a commuter will soon pay $10 per day between St. Thomas and St. John plus a soon to be implemented .50 fee from the V.I. Port Authority, Monsanto said that these commuters would expect to pay roughly $3,000 per year just for the ferry. She estimates that the average commuter's salary is in the $30,000 range, making the ferry cost account for 10 percent of their salary.
"We were all bowled over by what happened [with the rate increase]," Monsanto said. "It is based on their report. We can no longer just have lip service. This is truly unreasonable."
Pointing to subsidies that the ferry companies are supposed to receive from the local and federal government, Monsanto says that the subsidies have not been applied, leaving a burden on St. John ferry riders.
A spokesperson for the PSC responded to an inquiry about subsidies that "the [subsidy] issue is by law, strictly between the Virgin Islands Government and the Legislative Executive Branch."
"It is my opinion that all [the PSC does] is set rates," Monsanto said in response to whether the PSC had ever taken any action to assist in getting the subsidies for the franchisees or on behalf of their riders.
The subsidy would have to come through public works, Monsanto said.
Monsanto also said the Virgin Islands government should be taking an interest in the increase as it provides the tickets for St. John's high school students to take the ferry to attend school.
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.