July 7, 2006 – With one of Boyson Inc.'s barges, the General II, in dry dock since April and Global Marine's Roanoke out of commission, barge service between St. John and St. Thomas has had some sticky moments.
According to St. Thomas resident Carol Lotz-Felix, the situation reached crisis proportions on Tuesday, which was the July 4th Celebration holiday, and Wednesday. She said that on Wednesday, she waited more than three hours to catch the barge from St. John to St. Thomas.
"The line went way down the street and out into the street," she said.
St. Thomas Administrator Julien Harley said there have been delays because of the shortage of barges.
"But as they fill up, they've been going," Harley said.
Cheryl Boynes-Jackson of Boyson Inc. said the company's second barge, the General, was out of service Tuesday because it spent the day getting ready for use as Tuesday night's fireworks barge.
V.I. Port Authority Director Darlan Brin said Thursday that the delays on Tuesday and Wednesday were due to the July 4th Celebration holiday. "This was an unusual event," he said.
He said large trucks and floats coming from St. Thomas to St. John for the celebration parade contributed to the problem.
Boynes-Jackson said that the General II should be back from its annual dry dock in New Orleans by the end of July. She said it takes five days for the boat to get there and five days for its return.
She said there are only three places barges can go for dry dock – New Orleans, the Dominican Republic and St. Maarten. Boynes-Jackson said she prefers to send the barge to New Orleans because she has a good working relationship with a company located there.
Boyson Inc. recently purchased a new barge that can hold 52 vehicles — double the number of the General and General II. Boynes-Jackson said the company must wait for the U.S. Coast Guard certificate to arrive from New Orleans before it can go into service. She said she expects to get the green light somewhere between Friday and Monday.
The barge is named the Mr. B.
Coast Guard spokesman Richardo Castrodad could not be reached for comment. The St. Thomas office referred calls to him.
It remains unknown why the Roanoke is not operational or when it will return to service. Brin said it's docked up at Red Hook. Global Marine is not listed in the phone book and was consequently unavailable for comment.
Love City Car Ferries, which is the third company in the St. John-to-St. Thomas barge business, did not return a phone call.
Sen. Craig Barshinger said the key to improving barge service between St. John and St. Thomas is to encourage competition. "They're brilliant entrepreneurs," he said of the barge owners.
He said he does not favor a franchise system like the one that exists for the two ferry companies that operate between Red Hook and Cruz Bay. "I think that is the worst possible thing they can do," Barshinger said.
While acknowledging that problems do crop up, Barshinger said he finds it amazing that the system actually works as wells as it does.
Lotz-Felix complained that the barge companies do not share tickets. She said this factor contributed to the backup because people with round-trip tickets couldn't catch the next departing barge if they held a ticket for another barge company unless they wanted to buy a one-way ticket.
"I had a return ticket on the Capt. Vic," she said, noting that she had to wait for that barge because she didn't want to buy a one-way ticket.
The Capt. Vic and Roanoke do share tickets, but neither company has a cooperative agreement with Boyson Inc.
Brin said the Port Authority has no authority to force the barge companies into a cooperative agreement. And Barshinger said the Legislature couldn't make them share tickets either.
However, Barshinger said that when Capt. Vic and Roanoke began sharing tickets, it increased their marketability.
Barshinger also suggested that one queuing line be set aside for Boyson business and another for Capt. Vic and the Roanoke to end the congestion and confusion caused when drivers at the front of the line have tickets for a different barge than the one departing.
He also suggested quarterly public hearings to keep tabs on a St. John transportation scene that's rapidly changing.
Lotz-Felix also complained about the shortage of food, water and bathroom facilities at the V.I. Port Authority's Enighed Pond Marine Terminal and said that people walked up to the nearby Starfish Market to get food.
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