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Sunday, September 20, 2020
Home Commentary Op-ed Op-ed: Cruz Bay Needs More, Cheaper and Better Parking

Op-ed: Cruz Bay Needs More, Cheaper and Better Parking

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Cruz Bay needs to have free (or close to free) public parking for residents who travel to St. Thomas on the ferry for jobs and other purposes.  In Red Hook, the Port Authority runs an expensive garage, but the VI Government allows free parking along the main road right-of-way for almost a mile to accommodate dozens of workers going to St. John daily.   Due to the topography and other land issues on small St. John – there is no unofficial “unlimited” free parking for St. John residents going to St. Thomas.   The public lots owned by the VI Port Authority serve very different purposes on the two different islands. The charges to use the lots should not be based on the same criteria, the users/needs are different.

Politicians and others rightly complain that living costs on St. John are pushing local people to leave. The VI Port Authority adding an annual parking charge of $2100 ($175 a month) to the already necessary cost of ferry tickets and dollar taxis, makes it increasingly expensive to commute to a job on St. Thomas.  This will be an instance of government policy pushing more St. Johnians to decide to live on St. Thomas.

Also, clogging up every possible parking space in Cruz Bay with people trying to avoid new charges at the Port Authority lot will hurt every St. John business in Cruz Bay.  People forget that prior to the gravel lot when 4 barges were running in the mid-2000s, people who lived in other parts of St. John publicly said it was easier to take the car barge to St. Thomas and bypass Cruz Bay shopping and services altogether, than to find a place to park in Cruz Bay.

What can the government and the Port Authority do about this?  Every government agency – and each private business –does need to manage its expenses and collect user fees or have known other ways to cover costs. Parking spaces also need to be multi-purpose – not left blank with a reserved sign up for some individual’s 24-hour convenience – whether a public agency or a private business.  How frustrating is it at 7pm or on a Sunday to see a sign that prohibits you from parking near your church or to go to dinner – knowing that parking space will likely not be used till 8 am?  (Options need to be considered: some US towns have moved to a metered scheme for all parking to raise funds for all municipal services.)

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Parking for the public needs to be carefully planned and implemented. It’s doable – in a few steps.  Here are some suggestions.

  • All government and Port Authority parking lots and street parking in Cruz Bay should to be identified and appropriately marked for the length of parking allowed during business hours, and after business hours. (including the one near the National Park dock (local government or National Park Service managed?)  Some free spaces should be ½ hour, or 45 minutes and some two hours.  This needs to be actively enforced. No more all-day free parking in central Cruz Bay.    It needs to be coordinated with ALL agencies participating – and parking kept near-free in the gravel lot – until these new practices are fully established for each of the other lots.  There are about 6 different lots, and some roadsides, that need to be managed together for this to work.
  • I recall that the 2010 original gravel parking lot was built with St. John Capital Improvement funds from the central VI government, not the Port Authority. It was not intended for the Port Authority to make money – although it was acknowledged that the rest of land fill area was for the Port Authority’s own (income-producing) purposes. There can be different parking set-ups within the gravel parking lot location.
  • Open and unregulated parking in the gravel lot has led to it being both a dumping ground for dead vehicles, and a long-term parking area for St. Thomas people and businesses that wanted to leave a vehicle on St. John or those heading off-island for months at a time. Access needs to be controlled – and appropriate fees and locations set up for these longer term uses – that should have much higher fees than the fees charged to regular St. John residents for daily uses.
  • Private businesses and government agencies in Cruz Bay need to evaluate how they use their parking spaces – for customers and employees. And whether they should pay for off-site parking for employees or customers.  There are options/choices to consider. Also – if new signage goes up  – could it say that the public can use these spaces at certain hours when not needed by the business  – like after 5 pm for evening parking for restaurants and public meetings?  And for Sunday church services. Multi-use makes a better community!
  • Parking fees, of some amount, need to be charged as a way of “rationing a scarce resource” and being sure it is fairly available to all who need it. The costs of running the lots well also need to be covered.   But not everyone needs to pay the same amount or the same way.  The methods need to be fair and easy to manage – without collection of cash in a way that makes stealing the funds very easy.  The first step is identifying the different kinds of users, their numbers, and a fair amount to pay for the time and space used – across ALL government agencies running parking in Cruz Bay.
  • The gravel lot needs to have fees that encourage the use for daily commuter parking, or all day employees in Cruz Bay. Thus, perhaps a daily fee of $1.00 for any time over 30 minutes (free) might be a possibility.  But the car must leave the lot during the 24-hour period to qualify for this low rate.   Any shortfall in the expenses to run the lot, could be made up by the higher fees for “storage” of cars for St. Thomas businesses and people who go off island.  Those fees should be more like the airport long term parking charges.

Finally, the Port Authority needs to remember that it was created to manage a sector of important public infrastructure – for the people of the Virgin Islands.  Yes, it needs to charge fees to cover its costs, but does it need to use some of this scarce “gravel lot” land resource on St. John to house a private car rental agency lot – as a recent RFP in the newspaper announced it intends to do?

Land is too scarce on St. John for public land to be used for private exclusive purposes – as we have seen happen too many times over the years.  It’s time to put the public first, for the benefit of everyone, not just a few.   Parking is an essential service on an island where people cannot easily walk the hills and public transport is very limited.  The current challenge is for all government agencies and the Port Authority to start operating parking in Cruz Bay in a coordinated rational way for the people of St. John, the general public and economic activity.

I hope these thoughts are helpful in the process of creating a good and unified parking system for Cruz Bay.

Sincerely, Sharon Coldren (St. John resident)

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