By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TRANSPORT and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna Martin says officials are working to prevent a repeat of the tense demonstration that took place between taxi drivers and tour company workers on Bay Street on Monday.
Monday’s clash between taxi cab drivers and workers from a local tour company, Bahamas Experience, featured some physical arguments. Police officers were needed to quell the unrest.
The tension came as taxi cab drivers accused Bahamas Experience of poaching their potential customers.
Mrs Hanna Martin told The Tribune: “Certain franchises are able to engage in certain kinds of transport. Tour companies can only take what is pre-arranged 24 hours in advance. Taxis can do simple transfers and tours. They could solicit business from people who walk off the vessel, unlike tour companies whose businesses are by prearrangement.
“The union was objecting to what was being carried out by the tour company because by taking business on the ground, they were not acting in accordance with the franchise holding. The (road traffic) controller has advised me that he is satisfied that there was indeed a break in the policy of the law as it relates to the franchises and he has sought to remediate the situation to ensure it does not occur again.”
Officials at Prince George dock met Mrs Hanna Martin and other stakeholders to discuss the controversy yesterday.
“We tried to hear from all sides (during yesterday’s meeting) to get an analysis of what the circumstances were which led to the demonstration that ultimately became an inflamed situation with the staff of the tour operator,” she said. “It appears there was a systemic breakdown of procedures. Simply put, a tour operator is not allowed to take walk-off vessel business. Such operations are not the norm and we will not allow activities not permitted by law to continue.”
Mrs Hanna Martin said better communication among stakeholders will help prevent such controversies from arising in the future.
Philip Watkins, president of the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union, told The Tribune that Bahamas Experience began soliciting business from tourists arriving at Prince George Wharf about two weeks ago.
“People who worked for Bahamas Experience were seen giving out brochures trying to entice tourists to go on their tour,” he said. “A little under two weeks ago the (taxi cab) drivers noticed it, brought it to the attention of officials and went back and forth with those officials about the issue. It was brought to the attention of the road traffic, tourism and even the (Royal Bahamas) Defence Force. Nothing substantial happened, hence Monday’s protest.”
Mr Watkins said business for taxi cab drivers improved dramatically yesterday when operations at Prince George Wharf resumed as normal for the first time in two weeks.
“Every single taxi got at least a fare and came back and some even doubled up yesterday,” he said. “That’s the first time in two weeks the taxis were exhausted and that’s because the (tour operation) was not selling tours yesterday. Before that, drivers were there until two, three, four o’clock and did not get a fare.”
While voicing his disapproval over the nature of Monday’s protests, Mr Watkins said his union has been given assurances by Bahamas Experience owner Michael Symonette that the practices, which caused such tension will cease.
He expressed confidence that tour operator employees and taxi cab drivers will work in harmony again.
“We’ve always gotten along,” he said. “We also know it’s not their fault if the ship only sells a certain number. But we also know that after the ship sells, you can’t be there trying to get more on the ground. You simply can’t do that.”