Visitors to Magens Bay and Smith Bay parks on St. Thomas will soon have the option of buying their tickets and passes online rather than waiting in line to pay at the gate.
The Magens Bay Authority board, met Friday morning via Zoom and unanimously passed a motion to buy a cloud-based recreation management software system from BookKing, a Canadian-based company with clients throughout the U.S.
The total cost, including hardware, software and training, is $10,960, with a monthly maintenance fee of $405 that will cover upgrades, trouble-shooting and backup to BookKing’s cloud storage, said Cecile deJongh, treasurer of the Magens Bay Authority board. The system should be in place within six to 10 weeks, depending on the software buildout.
Beyond offering convenience for customers, as well as a public-facing website, the system will provide valuable data, she said, including how many people are at the beaches on a given day, peak use times, exactly who is visiting, and how often passes are utilized.
The new system also will reduce the use of cash, which will bring its own benefits, said board chairperson Katina Coulianos.
“During the pandemic, not having our cashiers have to transact in cash would be much safer for them,” she said.
Putting transactions online also could reduce the authority’s security needs, since there will be less cash accumulating at the gate, said board secretary Elliott “Mac” Davis.
The system also should help to reduce lines, which can grow especially long at Magens Bay when vehicles full of tourists show up at the gate without their entrance fees at the ready, the board members agreed – an issue that also was raised by resident Natalie Benjamin during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Many a beachgoer has waited many minutes in line behind vehicles with 20 or more passengers as the driver goes person to person to collect their entrance fee, take it to the cashier, and then hand them back their change.
General Manager Hubert Brumant said despite signs on the road leading to Magens Bay, and despite pulling aside repeat offenders to speak with them, and even attending V.I. Taxi Cab Commission meetings to hammer home the rules, the problem persists.
Under the new plan, the authority will use one of its two gates exclusively for electronic admissions, where guests will be able to enter by swiping their tickets or passes, much like they would at a gym.
“It is our intent that this is going to reduce the problem we have at the gatehouse,” said Brumant, but the board agreed he should also draft a policy for their review, addressing penalties for those who continually abuse the fee collection rules.
“I’m one who firmly believes there has to be a carrot and a stick,” said board member Dayle Barry.
In other business, the board voted unanimously to reduce its water testing by half, because it is duplicating efforts by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, which conducts the same tests at the same time each week and uses the same lab for the results, Coulianos said.
Currently, the authority spends $1,200 per month on water testing, and did so because DPNR’s program was sporadic. However, the department has recently secured stable federal funding and is back on a regular schedule, Coulianos said.
The board agreed to reduce its testing by half, and to set aside the money saved to test at times outside of the DPNR schedule, including after natural or manmade events such as heavy rainfalls or big land-based gatherings, such as the annual Slider Showdown, once the pandemic allows them to resume, .
Coulianos said she hopes the authority will be able to create a database from the information it gathers to measure the effects of various natural and manmade events on the waters of Magens Bay.
Avery Lewis, the St. Thomas-Water Island administrator who is Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s proxy on the board, was careful to note that should DPNR lose its funding source, the authority will resume its regular testing schedule, to which the board agreed.