Reports that VITRAN was considering a North Shore Road route through the V.I. National Park (VINP) have resulted in a manufactured debate, according to Department of Public Works (DPW) officials.
But that didnt stop the islands taxi drivers from protesting any consideration of a public bus service which would be in competition with taxis on the lucrative tourist routes to the VINP beaches at a meeting of the V.I. Senate Committee on Govern-ment Operations and Consumer Affairs on St. John.
DPW Commissioner George Phillips told the senate hearing a north shore route was not under consideration but Phillips also would not rule out establishing a route on any public road.
I dont know what they were doing, testing or what, Phillips told the May 17 meeting at the legislature building in Cruz Bay in response to the complaints from representatives of the islands taxi association and independent drivers.
The complaints appeared to stem from a January 2006 St. John Tradewinds report that VITRAN was evaluating a North Shore Road route.
We have citizens on St. John who have indicated an interest in this service, VITRAN General Manager Lawrence A. Sylvester told St. John Tradewinds at that time.
I have gotten no requests for additional routes or to change existing routes, the commissioner assured the senate hearing May 17.
If they are public roads, we are not limited as to what roads we can traverse, Phillips added, defending the use of public transportation to help residents reach recreational facilities. The North Shore Road is a public road.
American Values Not V.I.
Taking people to leisure sites is another objective, Phillips said. Our transportation system is de-signed to meet American values and that is choice.
What is good for America, what is good for St. Thomas, what is good for St. Croix is not necessarily good for St. John, committee chairman Roosevelt David told Phillips.
If VITRAN is allowed to go on that route it is going to kill the taxi industry on St. John, David added.
Senior citizens can request Dial-a-Ride service to Hawksnest, Phillips said of a VITRAN service for the elderly or disabled.
I dont think VITRAN should serve tourists, said Sen. Louis Hill. It wasnt designed to move tourists.
If the intent is to transport tourists, if that is the motivation to institute a VITRAN run, I think it is unfair and should not be done, Hill added.
Taxi Drivers Opposed
St. John taxi drivers were adamant in their opposition to public bus service on North Shore Road.
There are no real people living in those areas; its only millionaires and billionaires that are living there, said 41-year resident taxi driver Benedict Regis of the North Shore.
Youll be killing the industry of tourism, Regis said. How are we going to support our families.
There was good news for the islands public transportation customers.
This year we will have a full compliment of buses before the year is ended, Phillips said of St. John VITRAN service.
We have different size buses that we are ordering now, Phillips said.
The full-size buses will operate on established main routes, he explained.
Feeder routes will be the smaller buses, Phillips added. Phillips was not asked and did not say if the feeder buses could operate on the North Shore Road route.
St. John Vitran Is Viable
In response to a question about the financial viability of VITRAN operations on St. John Sen. Ronald Russell of St. Croix who noted the low level of ridership for his home islands VITRAN service.
St. John VITRAN has shown a steady increase in patronage, said VITRANs Sylvester.
Two units are operating bet-ween Salt Pond and Cruz Bay, with service beginning at 4 a.m. from Susannaberg, according to Sylvester. The last run is 7:15 p.m. from Cruz Bay and 8:10 p.m. from Salt Pond.
Vitran has also introduced limited service to Gift Hill in recent months to meet the needs of new residents of the Bellevue Village community.
Within 60 to 90 days there will be two units committed and operating in that area, Sylvester said.
Overall, VITRAN will offer service with four buses and two spares on the Centerline Road route and a total of six vehicles on St. John, according to the VITRAN general manager.
St. John Repair Facility
We are trying to minimize delays from transporting buses to St. Thomas for repairs, Sylvester said. St. John is going to be a self-supporting entity.
We will construct a facility on St. John, said DPW Commissioner Phillips. We are waiting on the transfer of land.
As for a VITRAN depot in a residential area, I am opposed, said Carolina resident Lorelei Monsanto.