By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Minnis administration is committed to lifting the moratorium on taxi plates in the country, Transport Minister Renward Wells said yesterday.
He added the government will be reviewing all dormant and inactive plates and will “seek to issue the requisite plates” to individuals who are actually interested— adding the government will not “perpetuate” the practice of leasing plates.
Last weekend, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told an excited crowd in Exuma that the government will be exclusively lifting the moratorium on that island.
“And as I stand here tonight, I want to inform Exuma that the government will lift the moratorium on taxi plates and self-drives just for Exuma. I want Nassau to hear me -- I did not say Nassau,” Dr Minnis said at the time.
When asked what led to the decision to lift the moratorium in Exuma, Mr Wells said: “As you know there has been an enormous growth in our tourism numbers, especially the stopover visitors in the Family Islands.
“And as a result of that, Exuma has been experiencing an awful lot of that growth and we are needing to have additional taxi operators, additional self-drive vehicles, which is just persons being able to purchase those vehicles to be able to drive around on their own.
“And so the government took the decision to expand immediately the amount of licences that is available. The prime minister would have made that announcement.
“But you know we were looking at this from last year and we had taken the decision to look at all of the dormant plates throughout the country and the inactive plates and to seek to issue the requisite plates to individuals who are interested in getting in the business and driving.
“I want to make that quite clear - this government is not going to perpetuate the practice of giving a taxi plate to an individual and that individual leases that taxi plate to another individual for $500 a month. Our position has been that if you want a taxi plate, you gotta buy the vehicle and drive that taxi.”
“I’m speaking to the entire country,” Mr Wells clarified when asked if he was speaking to Exuma specifically.
Regarding whether the moratorium will be lifted on other Family Islands as well, Mr Wells said: “Yes. The government took that decision last year April to…do an audit of all of the taxi plates, the bus plates, delivery plates and to seek to lift the moratorium. The prime minister made the decision to lift it immediately in Exuma and in the Family Islands and so we’re going to be looking at as to how we would go forward.”
When asked if he could give an indication as to which island will have the ban lifted after Exuma, Mr Wells said the government is looking at it “holistically”.
“But we’re going to be looking at each island’s plates, the amount of plates that are there, the amounts that were issued, those that are being used and those that are inactive.
“And then we will make a decision as to how many more we will issue as a ministry, as a government,” he said, adding New Providence will be part of this as well.
Meanwhile, Bahamas Taxicab Union President Wesley Ferguson told The Tribune recently that Dr Minnis told him that the moratorium will be lifted in Nassau.
“The prime minister and I already spoke and the moratorium in Nassau is also going to be lifted,” Mr Ferguson said.
“I think that was a message directly to (people in Exuma). He made the announcement in Exuma. Abaco, Bimini and all those other places are not included in that.
“We already spoke, he promised and I’m going to hold him to that promise exactly.”
Taxi drivers last year urged the government to end the two-decade old moratorium on new plates during a town hall meeting with Mr Wells. They cited its removal as a key issue, with numerous complaints being raised over the leasing of taxi plates.
In October 2017, Press Secretary Anthony Newbold said Cabinet “requested an audit of the taxi plates issued and their activity status.”
“The need to take the hustle out of taxi services is noted. There may be a need to issue new taxi plates in select Family Islands. Government is also looking at doing away with leasing taxi plates,” he said at the time.