The V.I. Port Authority (VIPA) last week announced major increases in fees for transportation between St. Thomas and St. Johnand the hiring of employees to collect the new fees.
Previously, a $2 fee was charged for all cars, which was collected by barge company personnel.
Problems with the money actually making into VIPAs coffers prompted officials to change the procedure, according to VIPA spokesperson Carol Henneman.
Barge Companies Not Paying Fees
We havent been getting the fees from the barges, Henneman said. We have hired people to collect the fees now, to ensure that we get them.
Although the increase from $2 to $3 sounds staggering, this is the first time that VIPA has raised the fees in about 11 years, the VIPA spokesperson added.
Weve increased marine tariffs across the board because they havent been increased since 1995, she said. As of Monday, May 8, these fees are permanent.
VIPA currently has a number of projects to finance, including continued work at the Enighed Pond Marine Facility and the Red Hook passenger ferry terminal building, according to Henneman.
Everyone wants new facilities, so how is the Port Authority supposed to pay for them? added Henneman. We need all the funding that we can get.
No one likes increases in anything, but the fact remains that we are building a new facility in Red Hook and still have $2 million worth of work at Enighed, Henneman added.
We have so many projects and the Port Authority is trying hard not to pass this cost on to the V.I. community, but we have to get some assistance, she said. Its a formidable task making certain that these docks are in first class condition.
Everyone wants top of the line facilities, but they dont want to pay for them, Henneman added.
Vehicle Size Determines Fee
The new fees, which will be collected at out-going barges in Red Hook, differ depending on the size of vehicles.
Cars, small-to medium-sized sport utility vehicles and motorcycles will be charged $3 per round trip ticket; pick-up trucks, vans and large sport utility vehicles will be charged $4 per round-trip ticket; and heavy trucks and equipment will be charged $20.
The cost of transporting cargo has increased as well, with the new charge for containers 20 feet or less now being $20.
Containers larger than 20 feet will cost $30 to transport. Vehicles carrying cargo that make more than one trip per day will only pay one time.
Fees which are not specified will be determined by VIPAs marine manager, Henneman explained.
The marine manager will have guidelines, she said. If a situation arises, she will come back and discuss it with officials. She will not just arbitrarily say a figure.
The announcement of the new fees caused a collective moan across Love City, where it is expected to impact the cost of everything from gasoline to milk.
I have requested that VIPA hold off the implementation of these fees and allow the public to add their voice to the process, said Senator-at-Large Craig Barshinger. VIPA representatives are being responsive, but they are not showing that they are going to rescind the fees.
VIPA did not involve the public in this decision, Barshinger added.
When people make decisions in a vacuum, they make bad decisions, he said. My feeling is that we need to have the people involved.
Adding to Extreme Confusion
Its another example of how the cost of living and doing business on St. John is rising, said Coral Bay Community Council (CBCC) president Sharon Coldren. I am wondering how they plan to have their individuals collect the fare in Red Hook so as not to add to the extreme confusion already there. Is this going to be another mess like the passenger ferry dock?
Barshinger has scheduled a town meeting with VIPA representatives, Public Services Commission officials and barge company owners on Thursday, May 11, at the Westin Resorts conference room at 6 p.m. to discuss the rate hike.
I dont know all the answers, he said. The people of St. Johnin a town meeting formatwith representatives of VIPA and the barge companies can work this out.