Oct. 5, 2006 — Sen. Craig Barshinger is on a mission to make sure that rules for carry-on baggage on the St. John ferries are the same — regardless of the particular ferry, its captain or the ticket collector.
"There's no consistency. My goal is to make sure ferries run in a professional manner," Barshinger said Thursday.
His quest began Sept. 29 when Barshinger said he was ordered off the ferry heading from Cruz Bay to Red Hook after he got in a fracas with the crew for refusing to pay $2 to check a garment bag. He said he's carried that same bag many times with no extra charge.
Although Barshinger finally agreed to pay the $2, a scene ensued with Barshinger at one point clutching the ferry rail as police officers — responding to calls from both Barshinger and the ferry captain — tried to carry him off. He said he eventually caught a ride on an empty ferry that was headed to downtown Charlotte Amalie.
The next day, Barshinger said he returned to his home on St. John aboard a ferry with the same bag and that no one tried to charge him for it.
On Monday, when Barshinger tried to board the ferry with the same garment bag, he received a different story and was told he had to buy a baggage tag.
Transportation Services Manager Kenrick Augustus said that Monday Barshinger was carrying the garment bag, his backpack and a battery charger — more than he could fit on his lap.
Augustus said that passengers can carry on small items like purses, cameras, umbrellas, briefcases and shopping bags. Fragile items, like picture frames, are also allowed to be carried on.
He said items like garment bags go as checked luggage, adding that if the passenger is concerned that the contents will get crushed, the crew can hang the bag in the wheelhouse or another safe location.
Augustus suggested that if passengers feel they are wrongly charged, they pay the fee and then discuss the matter at the ferry office.
Both Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures offices are located within walking distance of the Cruz Bay ferry dock.
Augustus said these rules are in place for safety reasons. He said that extra carryon luggage can get in the way should passengers have to exit the ferry during an emergency. "And it can obstruct someone from sitting in a seat," he said.
He said the ferry company would get in trouble with the U.S. Coast Guard if it did not adhere to these safety regulations.
Regarding Barshinger's Sept. 29 ouster from the ferry, he said the captain has the right to throw someone off the ferry if they're intoxicated or disorderly. "Sen. Barshinger was disorderly," Augustus said.
Delrise Varlack of Varlack Ventures, St. John's other ferry company, said that if a bag fits in the passenger's lap, they can bring it on as carry-on luggage.
Barshinger said that after his recent issues, he visited both Augustus and Varlack. He said Varlack told him his garment bag could go as carry-on luggage.
Public Services Commission Director Keithley Joseph said that nothing is spelled out in the ferry companies' franchise about the size of carry-on luggage. However, he said previous discussions with the companies indicate luggage that can be carried on an airplane can be carried on to the ferry without paying an extra charge.
Barshinger said he filed a formal complaint with the PSC, but Joseph said he hasn't received it yet.
The senator had harsh words for the ferry companies, who operate on a franchise approved by the Legislature.
"One of the main problems is the ferry companies believe they have an entitlement. I believe instead they have an opportunity," he said.
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