St. Johnian Alecia Wells Abstains from Vote To Give Ferry Companies Needed Funding

V.I. Public Service Commission Chairperson Alecia Wells of St. John didn’t vote on the implementation of a permanent ferry ticket price increases when the PSC acted on May 3 on St. Thomas.

Not that the St. Johnian didn’t want to express her opinion.

“If I had voted the way I wanted, it wouldn’t have passed,” Wells told St. John Tradewinds after the Thursday, May 11, island meeting on the ferry fee increases. “I agonized over that.”

After decades of ferry ridership and months of fielding complaints about poor service on the ferries since her appointment to the PSC, the longtime educator said that had she voted, she would have voted against the fee increase and the measure would not have passed.

“I knew I had to get them the money,” said Wells who has been at the center of the storm of complaints about the island ferry service since being named to the PSC and becoming chairperson in 2005.

“Those of us who live here, we have to get off of here and get back,” Wells said at the island meeting at The Westin Resort. “Not that we need to pay anything extra.”

“I believe that the fare matches whatever we’re getting because of fuel prices and whatever,” Wells said.

The fee increase was approved “because it’s necessary” to help the ferry companies improve equipment and staffing, according to Wells.

“I could see that if they weren’t given that money there wouldn’t be any ferries,” said Wells.

Crucian PSC Member Defends Action
PSC member Raymond Williams from St. Croix defended the commission against criticism that the fees were increased without public hearings, saying “hearings are not required” only “rate increase investigations”.

“It has been approximately 17 years since the last increase, you can’t negate that,” said Williams. “We have a responsibility to the rate payer and also to guarantee a rate of return for the operators.”

The PSC is watching the ferry companies closely and the increases can be rolled back, Williams added.

“These ferry companies take a pounding when they come before us,” Williams said.

“There are caveats attached,” the PSC member said of the approved fee increases. “If they don’t live up to them, we will repeal the rates.”

“There are other people that want that opportunity at a higher cost,” added Wells.

PSC Chairperson Is Commuter
As a regular commuter from St. John to St. Thomas, Wells had her own ferry service horror stories to tell, including one incident when there was no one to take her money and the ferry employee at the gate told Wells she could not board the ferry home to St. John.

“I told him ‘Go get somebody to collect my money,’” Wells said. “If you don’t think I’m getting on that boat ‘You have another thing coming.’”

The PSC chairperson is a daily commuter to St. Thomas from her St. John home.

“I am always on the ferry,” said Wells. “It’s really bad; we’re abused.”

“It is cleaner, now, but the customer service… ,” added Wells.

“Ms. Wells is a great advocate for St. John,” said Crucian PSC member Williams. “She represents the community in a very big way.”

PSC executive director Keithly Joseph told the audience the commission was monitoring the ferry service and changing inspection times to busy early morning and late afternoon runs to check on problems.

“We will roll back the rates and they know it,” said Williams.