By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Taxi drivers need something in return for accepting new fees at the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA), a union president yesterday agreeing the visitor experience needed improving.
Richard Johnson, the Public Service Drivers Union’s (PSDU) head, told Tribune Business that the Nassau Airport Development Company’s (NAD) proposed ground transportation fees needed to benefit his members also.
Again slamming NAD for failing to fully inform or consult the PSDU on the planned changes, which are set to take effect from November 1, Mr Johnson nevertheless agreed that “order” needed to be brought to the Bahamian ground transportation industry.
He added that he had met with Frankie Campbell, minister of transport and local government, on Friday, with the latter promising to work with the unions and all stakeholders to address the sector’s problems.
NAD’s plans to levy fees on taxi drivers, limousine and tour operators every time they enter the airport’s “commercial lane” to pick up fares and clients have already provoked a backlash from individual drivers and the rival Bahamas Taxi Cab Union.
Adding his concerns to the mix, Mr Johnson told Tribune Business: “NAD has full authority at the airport with respect to transportation providers, but there has to be something in it for taxi drivers when they introduce these fees.
“You cannot arbitrarily come up with fees like that, and there’s no improvements for the service provider.” The fees will levy $1 per pick up/fare on taxi drivers, with $2 and $3 being imposed on limousine drivers and tour operators
Jan Knowles, NAD’s vice-president of marketing and communications, confirmed that the fee proceeds will be used to improve a currently “chaotic experience” for travellers entering and exiting LPIA.
NAD wants to better manage the pick-up and dropping-off of passengers at LPIA, Ms Knowles last week telling Tribune Business that this area provided the “most frequent complaint” that the airport operator received. It wants to bring this in-line with the ‘world-class’ impression the airport - and overall tourism product - are seeking to give.
Mr Johnson agreed that the current traveller experience in the pick-up/drop-off area was “chaotic”, but expressed unhappiness that NAD had not invited him to a meeting to discuss the proposed fees and related issues.
He added that he had previously “made overtures to them to bring about some of the improvements they’ve been speaking of”, and met with Vernice Walkine, NAD’s chief executive, to discuss the matter.
“They are implementing this without the support of the PSDU,” Mr Johnson told Tribune Business of the fees. “There’s got to be something in it for the drivers, who give the service at the airport. It has to be done in a way that both sides can benefit.”
Ms Knowles last week told Tribune Business that NAD already provided two buildings for use by taxi drivers free of charge, and said the fees were common charges levied by airports throughout the world.
She added that NAD’s goal was to provide “a positive first impression” for tourists, to which Mr Johnson replied: “Yes, but the promotion of tourism comes from us as taxpayers. What are they saying?
“I agree the visitor experience needs to be improved because of the chaotic situation that exists down at the airport, but it must be done in conjunction with the transportation providers.”
Mr Johnson said the taxi drivers and their unions were seeking a “partnership” approach to deal with the industry’s issues, although Mr Campbell appeared to be unaware of NAD’s proposed fee increases when they met on Friday.
“What has to happen, as I said to the minister that morning, is that we need to demonstrate some type of leadership,” he said. “Somebody has to be in charge. The Road Traffic Department is supposed to be keeping control, but everybody is doing their own thing.
“It’s the whole provision of transportation service from the dock, the airport and the hotels. It’s the call-up system and so forth, even though there’s no order. The Minister agreed to collaborate with the unions and get the other transportation people involved.”
Mr Johnson said an industry meeting was tentatively being planned for October.