Sept. 22, 2006- The Public Services Commission should franchise the ferry routes — rather than the ferry companies — to prevent other companies from infringing on the franchise now held by Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services, said Claudette Ferron, the attorney for the two ferry companies.
The PSC currently regulates only the ferry companies plying the Cruz Bay (St. John) to Red Hook (St. Thomas) runs.
Ferron made her remarks Friday, the second day of a three-day workshop held by the PSC at the Westin Resort and Villas on St. John to bring its members up to speed on the PSC-related issues.
She said that the PSC should also regulate all routes in the Virgin Islands, including the one between St. Thomas and Water Island and ferry routes to St. Croix.
She said that a construction company is now running a ferry between St. Thomas and St. John for its workers, which she said infringes on the ferry companies' franchise. She also said the pricey ferry transportation provided by St. John hotels for their guests is taking revenues away from the two franchised ferry companies.
"If you don't address the infringements, we'll have transportation for regular people and another for wealthy people coming to the Virgin Islands," she said.
She said passengers traveling in vehicles aboard the barges that run between St. Thomas and St. John also infringe on the franchise.
Ferron said that court cases relating to the franchise infringements have cost the ferry companies "thousands and thousands," but the fine for infringing on the franchise runs only $500.
She said the party responsible for enforcing the franchise was not spelled out in the law, but suggested it should be the Planning and Natural Resources Department and the V.I. Port Authority.
"The legislation is weak," she said.
She said that although the ferry companies are providing a service that should be provided by the government, they are still charged docking fees by the Port Authority.
Kenrick Augustus, who serves as general manager at Transportation Services, said the companies are still waiting for funding from the federal Transportation Trust Fund to pay for four new ferries for each of the companies. He said those ferries would be used only for the franchised trips, freeing the companies' ferries for tours and other commercial trips.
PSC member Donald "Ducks" Cole, a former senator, told Augustus and Ferron if they wanted the Transportation Trust Fund money they needed to go to the Legislature to lobby for it.
Cole suggested that if the ferry companies don't get what they want, they shut down the ferry service.
Although the PSC recently made permanent a rise in the cost of ferry tickets, the members are still waiting for the results of an audit of the ferry companies' books.
"The rates have to be supported by the data, and we need to see it," PSC member Joseph Boschulte said.
Augustus said Transportation Services had hired a new set of auditors to come up with the information and now had a comptroller on staff to make it easier to develop financial information.
Ferron also addressed confusion over senior citizen ferry fares. Although the ferry companies and the PSC maintained in March, when the Source wrote articles on the issue, that passengers had to be 62 to get a reduced senior fare, Ferron said subsequently the ferry companies and the PSC agreed that 60 was the correct age.
She also clarified that passengers may not use reduced fare Education Department-issued tickets after 5:30 p.m.
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