Ferries hope to lower expectations

After decades of failed attempts to improve the territory’s ferry service, government officials have decided to try a different approach.

In the coming weeks, they will collaborate with operators to lower passengers’ expectations so drastically that any ferry service at all will seem like a miracle.

“It would be easier to drain the ocean and drive a jeep to St. Thomas than to convince the ferry companies to run on schedule,” Communications and Works Minister Mark Vanterpool said at a press conference launching the new initiative. “So we had to think outside the box.”

Since government officials couldn’t muster the political will to enforce existing ports regulations, they met with operators to try to better understand their point of view.

“They explained that their customers are spoiled rotten,” Mr. Vanterpool said. “Today’s passengers want safety, reliability and good service — all on the same boat.”

That level of service, however, would cut in to the companies’ profits.

A ferry operator at the press conference elaborated further, expressing nostalgia for the “good old days” when Tortola sloops carried passengers back and forth between the islands.

“It was much more dangerous back then, and it took several hours to cross to St. Thomas, but no one complained,” he said. “Now it takes only a couple hours to make the trip, but customers go ballistic over even a hint of an engine fire, collision or distress call.”

Promises

The new initiative, which is themed “Promise a Brush with Death; Deliver Third-Tier Service,” will be designed to educate ferry passengers on a reasonable level of expectations.

Using government subsidies, ferry companies will widely advertise their erratic service and dilapidated boats. All existing schedules will be revised to read, “Whenever we feel like it.”

Meanwhile, Government Information Services will air public service announcements with a witty slogan: “Remember: Don’t take the ferry if you can’t swim!”

In this manner, prospective passengers will be conditioned to expect an uncomfortable, dangerous ride aboard any ferry in the territory, officials said.

“Then if they actually reach their destination, they’ll be so happy they won’t even notice the smoke billowing from the engine,” Mr. Vanterpool explained.

Ferry companies, he added, will be able to raise rates dramatically.

Employee training

The initiative will also involve retraining ferry employees.

In the past, they frequently accosted potential customers and made bold promises: “We’ll get you to St. Thomas first!” “Our boat is the most comfortable!” “We’ll leave in five minutes!”

When the reality fell far short of such assurances, however, customers were disappointed.

Now, passengers are more likely to hear warnings, Mr. Vanterpool said. He provided a few examples:

“A guy broke his leg on our ferry last week. Are you sure you want to get on?”

“The engine hasn’t broken down in several days, so we’re definitely due for a disaster.”

“Listen, you’ll be lucky if we don’t sink before we get out of Road Harbour.”

The names of ferries will also be changed: Road Town Turtle Ferry, the Smoky Charger, the Angry Crew and so on.

Negative reaction

Initially, officials expect a negative reaction from customers, some of whom are expected to refuse to ride the ferries altogether.

“But here’s the beauty of this plan,” the operator said. “The ferry companies figured out long ago that passengers have little choice. If they’ve already paid for an airplane ticket from St. Thomas, it’s extremely expensive to rebook out of Beef Island.”

Besides, Mr. Vanterpool added, with the airport expansion delayed and American Eagle pulling out, finding a flight here will be increasingly difficult in the future.

“The worst that will happen is that visitors will spend a day or two pouting in a hotel before taking the ferry anyway — and this will only put more tourist dollars into the economy,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ferries will continue to run as they do now: on haphazard schedules, with frequent breakdowns and occasional reckless driving.

“When expectations are sufficiently lowered, these trials will seem like a walk in the park,” Mr. Vanterpool said. “So remember, people of the Virgin Islands, do not take the ferry — at least, not unless you know how to swim.”

Disclaimer: Dateline: Paradise is a column and occasionally contains satirical “news” articles that are entirely fictional.

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