May 17, 2006 – Although Public Works Commissioner George Phillips said he couldn't predict what would happen in the future, he did note several times during a Senate Government Operations Committee meeting Wednesday that there were no plans at present to run a VITRAN bus route along St. John's beach-lined North Shore Road.
These remarks, however, did nothing to soothe several senators and taxi drivers, who hammered away at Phillips for even considering the plan.
"I don't think that VITRAN should be used for transporting tourists," Sen. Louis P. Hill said, noting that it would put the government-owned bus company in direct competition with the taxi drivers.
About two dozen people attended the meeting, which was held at St. John's Legislature building.
Phillips said numerous times that VITRAN's job was to transport anyone who could pay the fare.
"Public transportation is for the public," he said, noting that that concept included transportation to leisure activities, as well as work and home.
St. John taxi driver Benedict C. Regis claimed that VITRAN had made a trial run on the North Shore Road, but Phillips said he didn't know anything about that.
Regis and other drivers stressed that to include a VITRAN route on the North Shore would impact their ability to support their families.
Phillips said that St. John is going to set the pace for VITRAN by getting a full complement of buses within the next 60 to 90 days.
This includes four buses to run the current Salt Pond to Cruz Bay route and the feeder route along Gifft Hill Road. He said the island will also have two spare buses and a maintenance yard so the buses don't have to go to St. Thomas for repairs.
He said the money will come from the $2.5 million in GARVEE bond funding left over after the construction of the Enighed Pond Marine Facility.
In response to questions about VITRAN's ridership on St. John, VITRAN manager Lawrence Sylvester said that the numbers are rising. He said that in 2004, more than 44,000 people took the bus, generating roughly $40,000 in revenues. In 2005 the figures stood at slightly more than 65,000 riders and approximately $62,000 in revenues. For the first quarter of 2006, 27,471 people rode VITRAN, generating more than $30,000 in revenues.
Phillips said that the Public Works Department is looking into using federal funds to buy ferry boats to lease to St. John's two ferry companies. He said they would use them on their Public Services Commission-controlled runs between Red Hook (St. Thomas) and Cruz Bay. He said the ferry companies would use the boats they own for tourism-related runs.
He said the ferry companies need help because they face financial difficulties since they can only get five-year loans from local banks rather than ones that last the life of the boats.
Phillips also spoke about anticipated road improvements, including his plan to open up what was once a road along the island's south shore. This road runs through V.I. National Park, and park officials have for years opposed such a move because it traverses an undeveloped watershed.
"I intend to insist on the right of the local government to have use of this road," Phillips said.
Phillips said that he will continue with plans to build the vendor's plaza/parking garage across from the Creek despite opposition from some members of the community.
"Somebody on St. Thomas said that's what they're going to do, but St. John should get what St. John wants," St. John resident Melville Samuel said, adding that he opposes the parking garage.
He said placing it next to the public tennis courts, as has been proposed by others in the community, was a better idea because it would allow for a larger facility.
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