Blaming skyrocketing fuel costs, Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services of St. John are cutting back ferry runs between St. Thomas and St. John starting Monday, May 5, according to the companies’ legal counsel, Claudette Ferron.
While the hourly Public Service Commission (PSC) required runs will remain in effect, the island’s two ferry companies can no longer afford to schedule additional runs, Ferron explained.
Red Hook to Cruz Bay
Then every hour on the hour
Cruz Bay to Red Hook
Then every hour on the hour
until 11:00 p.m.
Cruz Bay to Charlotte Amalie
Charlotte Amalie to Cruz Bay
“We had included additional runs and sometimes ran two boats to accommodate the demand and workers,” said Ferron. “But we can’t keep going with the fuel costs the way they are. Costs are increasing and revenue is staying the same.”
The PSC approved a rate increase for the ferry runs in 2005, and in that time the cost of fuel has spiked more than 200 percent, according to Ferron.
“Since 2005 when we had the last rate increase — which was the first rate increase in almost two decades — the cost of fuel has gone up 234 percent,” she said. “In the last six months the cost has gone up 28 percent and in the last three months it’s risen 13 percent.”
The ferry companies have requested another rate examination, which is currently pending before the PSC. Ferry representatives have also asked for immediate relief, but have not heard from the regulatory board, explained Ferron.
“We made a request for a hearing for a fuel surcharge a few months ago but have not gotten any response from the PSC on that,” said the attorney. “The costs are rising and we can’t do anything about it because we can’t do anything about our rates. You can’t get blood from a stone.”
In 1987 the companies were awarded an exclusive 30-year franchises to run ferry service between St. John and St. Thomas. Since the companies provide public transportation service, they should be subsidized by the government, according to their legal counsel.
“The companies have not received any subsidies from the government — they haven’t gotten a dime,” Ferron said. “They are providing public transportation which is a government responsibility but they aren’t getting any subsidies.”
“Everywhere else in the states, including Puerto Rico, when private entities provide public transportation they are funded by the government,” the attorney continued.
With the ferry companies operating in the red, something needs to be done, Ferron added.
“The ferry companies have been going into debt for the last 10 years,” she said. “How this is resolved will be dependent on what steps are taken to deal with the crisis facing public marine transportation.”
“The issue of public transportation needs to be addressed by the appropriate entities, from the PSC to the legislative body to the executive branch,” said Ferron.