By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Hundreds of taxicab drivers could potentially be left jobless at month’s end, the Bahamas Taxicab Union’s (BTCU) president fears, with the 80 percent holding leased plates most at risk.
Wesley Ferguson told Tribune Business that existing owners of taxi cab plates were exploiting the Government’s plan to clean-up the industry by seizing plates back from drivers before this can be put into effect.
The Minnis administration’s strategy is to take back all existing plates and then reissue them to the taxi drivers, rather than present owners.This is a bid to end the practice where plates are acquired by persons who have no relationship to a taxi, and never set foot in one, but merely lease the plates to drivers for fees that are often deemed excessive.
Mr Ferguson, though, said many plate owners had moved to head-off the Government’s plan by reclaiming them from the driverrs. “The Prime Minister had given me a proposal to throw out to the taxi drivers on the moratorium,” he explained.
“The proposal was that the Government was going to take back all plates and reissue to drivers on the basis that the leasing fee would be paid to the Government. The Government wants to stop the leasing of plates. The Government has yet to act on that, and the owners have seized the opportunity to take plates back from the drivers.”
Mr Ferguson added: “Ultimately at the end of this month you will find persons unemployed. These drivers have mortgages, purchased the cars they use, have children in school etc. The owners are covering their backs by taking their plates back.
“The number of drivers using leased plates could be in the hundreds. Eighty per cent of the 1,135 taxi drivers used plates that were leased. The Taxi Cab union has now been put in a precarious position and will be forced to act if the Government doesn’t intervene.”
Tribune Business made several attempts to reach Renward Wells, minister of transport and local government, with no success. He, however, said back in March that the Minnis administration is committed to lifting the moratorium on taxi plates.
The minister added that the Government will be reviewing all dormant and inactive plates, will “seek to issue the requisite plates” to individuals who are actually interested, and will not “perpetuate” the practice of leasing plates.
Mr Ferguson said there were also other issues of concern for the union, and explained: “The government had promised to change the colour of taxi plates from SD (self-drive) plates. I am very concerned that hackers are renting SDs and picking up tourists while pretending to be taxi drivers. I am concerned about that.
“An SD is not insured to take tourists. Also, it opens the door for drug peddling,rape and assaults. Unsuspecting persons can get with these unregulated drivers and risk their lives. I’m concerned because we have had several travel advisories and, to this date, the Government is well aware of our issues and has done nothing concrete to alleviate them.”