As a St. John ferry owner, I understand the intricacies of the industry. With purchases for equipment, oil, fuel, maintenance, payroll, dry docking, and the list goes on, one can understand why this industry is highly subsidized, on a regular basis, in the continental United States and even in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the United States Virgin Islands.
St. John ferry operators with the public franchise from the PSC cannot operate effectively and profitably if the Government of the Virgin Islands does not subsidize their service. Pillsbury Sound is St. John's highway, it is our literal umbilical cord by which goods, services, and even the mail is transported from St. Thomas. St. Johnians must go to St. Thomas to attend high school, to attend college, to receive medical care, and to receive much needed government services. Without the ferries, what would happen to St. Johnians?
Instead of receiving subsidies on a regular basis, Transportation Services and Varlack are being attacked for asking the PSC to increase their rates. I have read articles in the Daily News whereby individuals presented what appeared to be cogent arguments as to why the PSC shouldn't grant an increase to these companies. Also, I read a letter dated 4/13/09 from VI Unity Day Group to the PSC, expounding on these arguments. While, I understand that these arguments are being presented on behalf of St. John residents, I believe they are misdirected. VI Unity Day Group, Inc. and others should advocate for the Government of the Virgin Islands to address the needs of St. John residents rather than attacking the ferry owners. This is the only long term solution or two years from now if another increase is requested, they may have to present similar arguments once again.
Federal funding for mass transit exists and it should pay the differential in what citizens are already paying to the ferry companies and the increase the companies are requesting. In essence, the PSC should approve the increase but the government should pay, not the residents. This is not a novel concept; it is already being done in many locations under the US flag. St. Johnians deserve this; we pay the highest property taxes of all VI residents and by far we receive the fewest services. Let us all rally that taxation without representation is folly! At the same time, let us all applaud the private, local, small business entreprenuers, like Varlack and Transportation Services, who took the risk to provide a much needed service.
Llewellyn T. Sewer
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