Published: October 3, 2012
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. THOMAS - For the first time in almost two decades, rental car companies on St. John can increase the number of vehicles available for rent.
V.I. Motor Vehicles Bureau Director Jerris Browne said according to the V.I. Code, the governor has the authority to adjust the rental car quotas on each island.
Browne said the St. Thomas quota is 3,000 rental cars; the St. Croix quota is 2,951; but the St. John quota has been frozen at 625 since 1994.
St. Thomas and St. Croix are no close to reaching the quota limits for rental cars, but St. John has been maxed out for almost 20 years, Browne said.
This week, based on a recommendation by the Motor Vehicles Bureau, Gov. John deJongh Jr. doubled the St. John quota to 1,250.
Browne said the cap was in place to limit the congestion and traffic on St. John, but it also has limited the growth of the rental car industry on St. John.
"It was unfair to them," Browne said. "So we did an assessment overall and figured it's time to open it up to give them some relief."
He said that over the years, the Motor Vehicles Bureau has received numerous complaints about the quota and many requests to increase the number of cars each company can have.
The requests were kept on a "priority list," and Browne said all the pending requests have now been granted. Sixteen existing companies had requested more vehicles, and nine requests were made for new companies, according to Browne.
Elaine Hill of Delbert Hill Jeep Rental said the increase in vehicles comes at a bad time. With the recession and fewer tourists, business is not good.
"Everything is going downhill, the cars are just being parked, they're not going anywhere," she said.
She said business is so slow, she and her husband are not keeping as many cars as they could under the original quota. The business could have about 52 cars, but they have been only keeping 32 in the lot, she said.
St. John Car Rental was capped at 55 vehicles, but it received permission to obtain another 15 cars this month.
"I asked for 15 more and got it, and I've been asking for 18 years," owner Albert Willis said. "I haven't heard of being in business and not being able to grow your business."
He said it would have been more helpful to get the additional cars several years ago when business was booming, but he still is glad for the quota increase and will be ordering more vehicles for the coming tourist season.
Willis said he already is getting bookings for November and December, and so far, the numbers are strong. It is a "crap shoot" each year, Willis said, but he hopes for a good season.
Browne said the quota also was increased for another reason - to help reduce the number of St. Thomas rental cars that are brought over to St. John.
That competition has hurt the industry on St. John, according to a number of rental car agencies.
Willis said the practice began because of the quota.
"We'd have to turn people away because the quota was too low," he said.
When all the island's rental cars were booked, visitors had no choice but to rent cars on St. Thomas and bring them over to St. John to use during their vacations.
Camille Paris, owner of Paris Car Rental, said the quota increase will only be effective if the government can do something to stop the St. Thomas rental cars from coming over to St. John.
"Then we could see our business growing," he said. "If that don't happen, then giving a quota raise is defeating the purpose."
He said he also is concerned that by raising the quota, more cars and businesses will flood the small market.
"You're going to have a price war," Paris said. "I'm just looking on, because somebody going to get hurt in this business, and I hope it's not me."
Paris Car Rental was limited to 15 vehicles, but now the company can operate 25. Paris said he most likely will increase his fleet, but he will wait and see how the market plays out and whether the government will do anything to stop the influx of St. Thomas rental cars.
Browne said the government cannot prevent the cars from coming over on the barge to St. John from St. Thomas because it would violate federal laws regarding interstate commerce. He said that is part of the reason for raising the quota.
"We did all we can for them, so they can at least compete a little better," he said. "Now, we have to let the market take care of itself."
Browne said the Motor Vehicles Bureau looked at a number of factors before recommending to the governor that the quota be increased. He said they looked at traffic congestion, parking and accident rates, and they talked to the V.I. Police Department and the V.I. Public Works Department.
"We take a lot into consideration," he said.
Browne said he will be sending formal letters to the agencies to inform them of their increases. Motor Vehicles Bureau staff on St. John will meet with agency representatives this week to reconcile and update their records.
Browne encouraged rental car agencies on St. John to contact Motor Vehicles Bureau Assistant Director Myrna George at 776-6262 or 643-5110 to schedule appointments this week.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.