There are a lot of things island living will force you to get used to. Things are often a little more expensive than the mainland because much of it is imported. And what you can buy is limited: Ever notice almost every breakfast menu offers applewood smoked bacon? Local-made goods that aren’t rum can go quick too. A friend was vexed to no end after waiting in a long, sun-baked line at Food Fair for some whelks only to find they’d run out. It’s just a fact of island life. There are some vexations, however, that seem needless.
That’s the heart of this series of articles. People wrote in with what was working in their island life and what could be fixed, using the eyes of a first-time visitor. No one complained about a lack of bacon choices, but many of you found transportation bottlenecks ridiculous.
We have the culture, we have the beaches, we have the history, the forest trails, the rum, the year-round sun, the music, and, yes, sometimes whelks. Visitors and locals alike soak it up. The moment you try to fly off island, however, it’s a harassification.
“Visitors to the island have a wonderful time. They depart relaxed, rested, and have the desire to return until they arrive at the airport for departure. The wait to clear customs and Homeland Security is atrocious. The wait in lines can take two to three hours. Our tourists are subjected to an unpredictable delay. This is not a beneficial incentive to return to our island,” a reader wrote.
For true. Of course, it’s not limited to tourists. You’ve stood in that line many times. Too many times.
“The solution is to have adequate staffing and equipment to reduce the amount of time to get through the security aspects. Additionally, would be to have the airlines separate their departures so that outbound flights are not clustered so close together, increasing the demand load through security. Weekends are notorious for long waits,” the reader continued. “We do our best to ensure guests have a great time on island. It is about time the hassle at the airport is eliminated. Everyone would benefit.”
Some of this is on the feds. Some of this is on our local officials. Some of this is on the airlines. But every one of them has to know it’s a problem, right?
I wasn’t around for the first iterations of Cyril E. King Airport, so I can’t speak to how it was back in the day. I do remember the old Beef Island airport — one rickety room with a creaking X-ray machine, a few chickens, and an elderly woman with a cooler full of fairly-cold soda and beer. It wasn’t much to look at, but it worked. I was also one of the first passengers through its replacement, the Terrence B. Lettsome Airport. Huge and air-conditioned, this was built to handle modern passenger loads.
In those early days, however, it did not work. When I found a pocket knife in my bag, I flagged down a security guard. Had I gone through the scanner, he asked. Of course, I had; how else would I be on the other side of security? This was shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and airport security was all anyone seemed to talk about. The airport staff flew into a confusion, and I wound up speaking to a Port Authority official who told me, I’m not joking, that the X-ray machine had been “warming up” when I went through, and that’s why it didn’t pick up the blade. Mmmm-hmmmm.
Even the most modern, streamlined systems can have hiccups. How many years have our airports had the hiccups?
Here’s some of what you had to say about the organization of USVI airport taxis:
“Overwhelmingly, the most common complaint we hear directly is regarding taxis. The set up at the airport is disorganized at best,” a reader wrote.
There’s more, a lot more you wrote in, but I don’t want to give the taxi man too much blows. We’ll save some for car rental companies too. I edited out the name of the company in the below example.
“We wasted about five hours of our vacation dealing with the rental company after the car started making a terrible noise like something was dragging. We called the office, and they told us to bring it back to the airport, which we promptly did — abruptly changing our plans for the day. We sat for a long time waiting only to be handed back the same car and told to ignore the noise,” a frustrated reader wrote.
Airport isn’t the only choke point that bothers you. You overall loved the new ferries to and from St. John, even refuting my experience that the operators can be a little too rude. But once on STJ, you found trouble.
“The process for guests arriving by ferry to St. John needs to be improved. The new boats are great, and the terminal in Red Hook very user friendly, but once you arrive in Cruz Bay, it’s a bit chaotic at times,” a reader wrote.
I don’t mean to keep picking on the taxi man. Many of them are excellent. A little self-reflection would go a long way, however.
Imagine being in a new place and trying to get somewhere you’ve never been. You get off a boat or airplane and, by some miracle, find a taxi driver who knows where you want to go. Wonderful. Then you are loaded into a van or weird safari truck and sit. And sit. And sit while the taxi man you just spoke with mills around, chats with other drivers, asks other bewildered tourists where they want to go, walks away, and comes back a few times. How’s that make you feel? Then, some other taxi driver — a completely different person — gets in and starts the engine. Does this new person even know your destination? You don’t know. But off you go on some winding road.
Parking is another bottleneck we covered before. The Cruz Bay situation is unique. The ferry dock splits the beach, leaving a lovely little strand to the north. I’ve washed my feet off there, years past. Moving the taxi stand away from there could make it much much nicer and the loading and unloading of passengers smoother, you said.
“The overnight guests on St. John are the most important target demographic in our tourism,” the reader wrote. “There are a large number of spaces dedicated to idle taxis on a gorgeous little stretch of beach. Imagine if we repurposed that taxi parking and allowed our incoming guests, with luggage on a sidewalk for pick up. We should allow the taxi operators to park adjacent to Enighed Pond (the gravel lot) so that they can be dispatched as needed. If three or so taxis were right there, as each departed, the next could queue up. This would free up a lane for people with vehicles picking up passengers and improve the flow of traffic through the area. A designated dispatcher could organize the communications.”
Another reader was also concerned about the wasted space and general unattractiveness of the gravel lot.
“The gravel lot is an eyesore. The Port Authority needs to be more responsive to community standards and seek to beautify the necessary facilities. The septic system servicing St. John is a good example of how to make an ugly process more discreet. There have been plans made for a Carnival Village at Enighed pond, which could serve a multitude of uses for our community and increase our tourism appeal.”
In this case, what is appealing to tourists will also be appealing to locals.
If you have missed any of our previous “local tourist” articles, find them in the links below.
“Local Tourist” Feedback Received
Promote Paradise or Pave It Over, ask “Local Tourists”
Adopt Your Home, “Local Tourists”
“Local Tourists” Seek Digital and Cultural Clarity
Do What You Say, Say “Local Tourists”
“Local Tourists” Would Like To Get Off The Road
“Local Tourists” Tire Of Taxi Trouble
It’s Politics and Sargassum for “Local Tourists”
“Local Tourists” Cringe At Crime
“Local Tourists” Burst With V.I. Pride