Port Authority to raise ferry fares to BVI Marine tariffs for BVI-USVI ferries

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ST. THOMAS - Ticket prices for ferry trips to the British Virgin Islands most likely will increase by about $5 in April, and the money will fund projects at St. Thomas ferry terminals.

V.I. Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe recently met with the three BVI-to-USVI ferry operators to discuss the new tariff, and a public hearing on the tax is scheduled for March 7.

The Port Authority board approved the increase - the first in almost 20 years - last year, and it will go into effect April 1.

The tariffs being increased are ship's dues and wharfage. Each tariff is assessed to each passenger.

The ship's dues have remained at 85 cents per passenger since 1994. The new rate will raise it to $2.

Under the current rate, the V.I. Port Authority collects about $170,000 annually from ship's dues. The new rate is expected to bring in $400,000 a year, according to Port Authority spokeswoman Monifa Marrero.

The wharfage fees, both inbound and outbound, last were raised in 1996, from 85 cents to $1. The proposed increase will be to $3.

Wharfage fees currently bring in $375,000 a year, but once the increase goes into effect, the Port Authority anticipates bringing in $1,125,000 a year, Marrero said.

The Port Authority will use the added revenue to fix the ferry docks and facilities that have fallen into disrepair.

It also will fund some new things that will make life easier for ferry passengers.

The new tax will pay for the construction of a U.S. Customs house in Red Hook, eliminating the need for travelers from the BVI to check in on St. John before arriving on St. Thomas.

"That will cut down on the time it takes to travel between the BVI and the USVI," Marrero said.

The Red Hook ferry terminal's parking lot will double in size when it is turned into a two-story parking garage, Marrero said.

The wooden fenders that line the concrete dock at Blyden Marine Terminal along the St. Thomas waterfront are rotting, and the new fees will allow the Port Authority to replace the fenders with rubberized material that will last longer and be better for the boats, Marrero said.

"It's more expensive, but it's more durable," she said.

The old dock at Red Hook also will be rehabilitated, she said.

"It's still used for a lot of the smaller ferries traveling from the BVI," Marrero said.

Smith Ferry Managing Director Marjorie Smith said the increased tariffs are coming at a bad time, when the ferry companies already are struggling with razor-thin profit margins.

"It's going to be a major impact," she said.

The $5.15 total per passenger increase will have to be passed on to the consumer, she said.

The new tariff also comes on the heels of an increase in the departure tax implemented by the BVI government.

The departure tax is collected directly from passengers by the government, and not built into the ticket price, but it still means more paying money to travel between the BVI and the USVI.

In August, the BVI tax rose from $5 per person to $10 for residents and $15 for non-residents.

Smith said she understands that the V.I. Port Authority's tariffs have not been raised in a long time, but she said it would have been better for business if they had been raised incrementally during the last 20 years.

"I can't beat up on the port because I can see the issues that they face," Smith said. "As always, it's just a tough pill to swallow." The three companies affected by the U.S. Virgin Islands tariff increase are Caribbean Maritime, Native Son and Smith Ferry. The new tariff does not apply to ferries that operate the St. Thomas-to-St. John route.

The public hearing will be at 9 a.m. March 7 in the V.I. Port Authority's conference room on St. Thomas.

- Contact Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

Current Proposed Increase

Ship dues $0.85 $2 $1.15

Wharfage, inbound $0.85 $3 $2

Wharfage, outbound $0.85 $3 $2

Total $2.85 $8 $5.15

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