The V.I. Port Authority plans to go ahead and impose Cruz Bay wharfage fees on St. John's ferry companies linking the island with St. Thomas — but won't ask the Public Services Commission to increase fares to cover the cost to the operators.
After the authority's governing board decided in August to adopt a fee policy for the use of its St. John facilities, VIPA executive director Gordon Finch said he would seek approval from the PSC to raise ferry fares to cover the fees. The commission regulates the fares the companies charge customers.
Now, Port Authority spokeswoman Shirley Smith says the authority doesn't need to consult the PSC and will go ahead with its plan to assess the companies 25 cents per ferry passenger.
Since the facilities are the Port Authority's, Smith said on Monday, VIPA can impose fees "if we choose to do it."
Smith said the ferry companies — Transportation Services of St. John and Varlack Ventures — can go to the PSC on their own if they want to pass the cost along to their customers via increased fares. Current full fares are $3 each way between Cruz Bay and Red Hook ($1.50 for seniors and $1 for children under 12), and $7 each way between Cruz Bay and Charlotte Amalie ($3.50 for seniors and $3 for children under 12).
The 25 cent per-passenger fee was one of three that the Port Authority Governing Board approved at its Aug. 18 meeting. The others are a fee of $2.50 per trip by non-commercial vehicles on St. John barges and a fee of 15 cents per foot on vessels berthing overnight at the Loredon Boynes Ferry Dock in Cruz Bay.
Ferry operators have challenged the overnight berthing charge, saying they are still waiting for the Planning and Natural Resources Department to deliver on a promised mooring plan that would give them an alternative to tying up to the dock at night.
Smith said it hasn't been decided yet when the various fees will go into effect or what the mechanisms will be for collecting them. However, she said the barge fee is likely to be imposed first because VIPA has plans to fence off its cargo facilities at the Cruz Bay bulkhead to institute new parking regulations. Personnel controlling access at a gate to the enclosed area would be in a position to collect the fees from the operators of vehicles entering the facilities to board a barge.
The $2.50 fee will not apply to commercial vehicles — those operated by food purveyors, waste haulers, fuel suppliers and the like — which already pay separate fees to the authority.
At a meeting with Port Authority officials in August, barge operators said they did not want to collect the new fee themselves along with their own charges. Those round-trip barge costs currently are $25 to $40, depending on the company.


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