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FUNDING TO HELP BRING FULL BUS SERVICE BACK

July 22, 2002 – St. John's VITRAN bus service should get some air in its tires and then some if the government shakes loose the $700,000 appropriation passed by the Senate.
Gov. Charles Turnbull vetoed the appropriation on June 21, but the Legislature overrode the veto on Thursday. The governor said he vetoed the bill because the St. John Capital Improvement Fund, the bill's designated source of funding, is for capital improvements, not for bus operations. But Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, a St. John resident, defended tapping the fund, saying "Bus service is a capital investment."
Verne Callwood Jr., Public Works deputy commissioner for transportation, said he was "really pleased" about approval of the $700,000 appropriation. "St. John is in need of special attention," he said.
Callwood said his first priority is to get VITRAN's maintenance facility on St. John open. He said VITRAN hasn't been able to use the facility because it needs lots of work. He said a mechanic is sent over from St. Thomas to make minor repairs. For major repairs, the island's two buses have to make the barge trip to St. Thomas.
Callwood said he needs two maintenance people for St. John. Donna Roberts, who supervises the VITRAN bus service on St. John, also wants more employees. She now has three bus drivers, which means she must drive the handicapped bus on weekends. And buses no longer run at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., as they did when VITRAN began operating on St. John six years ago. The shortage of drivers also means that the buses only make about half of their usual trips on Saturdays and Sundays.
The first weekday bus runs still depart from the Susannaberg Public Works facility at 4 a.m. That means the St. Thomas-based drivers must stay over on St. John the night before. The first ferry to St. John from Red Hook leaves at 6:30 a.m. Roberts said the drivers stay on St. John at their own expense at the Inn at Tamarind Court, plus they pay for their parking at Red Hook and their boat tickets.
St. John used to have eight drivers who resided on the island. When VITRAN laid off employees because of budget cuts, union rules forced the transit operation to let the St. John drivers go and replace them with St. Thomas drivers who had more seniority. Callwood said that issue with the United Steelworkers of America remains in arbitration, and until it is resolved, St. John won't have any bus drivers based on-island.
"I would like to hire St. John employees back so we can get back to the regular schedule," Roberts said.
Callwood said St. John ridership has been holding steady at 200 to 300 people a day, which he said was "pretty good" for a small island such as St. John.
Liburd said new buses for St. John are in the works. He said a $3.5 million appropriation will buy new buses for the whole territory, two of them slated for St. John. Until those buses arrive — Callwood said they take about 18 months to build — he wants to upgrade the two buses St. John has. While both vehicles are safe for travel, he said, they do need work.
Callwood also said St. John needs bigger buses with heavier-duty engines and transmissions. While the 25-foot buses now in use are specially made for hilly St. John with medium-duty engines and transmissions, he said a 30-foot bus would allow for more passengers. However, the buses need to be narrower than the standard 96-inch width because of the island's narrow, curving roads. The current buses are 86 inches wide, which works for St. John. he said.

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