By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THERE are “roughly 5,000” self-drive licence plates in circulation, according to Road Traffic Controller Bradley Sands, who yesterday suggested some rental car operators are presently “illegally crossing over” into the taxi business.
Mr Sands, who was appointed to the post last September, said he has received several reports of “unscrupulous behaviour and activities” related to some of the smaller self-drive operators.
Transport Minister Renward Wells on Tuesday announced his ministry was moving forward with plans to facilitate the colour change of taxi plates, insisting the move would bring about the “needed” differentiation between the two services.
While Mr Wells didn’t go into detail with his comments at that time, Mr Sands yesterday insisted the issue was predicated on the “many issues” taxi drivers have raised over what has been described as “hackers coming in and picking up the tourist”.
Mr Sands told The Tribune the similarities of the two plates have led to poorly guided visitors being duped into receiving rides at rates just below those of standard taxis.
He said this “hacking service” has completely stunted the day-to-day operations of some taxi drivers in tourist hot spots.
“Since I came here I’ve been asking why or how all of this was allowed. I mean, for both of these groups to get plates that are so much alike, this level of confusion should have been expected,” Mr Sands said.
“I mean for Bahamians, we know the difference between the TN plates and SD plates, but the visitors don’t. All they see is the colour and assume that ‘hey, there goes the local taxi.’ In many other countries around the world taxis have a set design, make or specific colour.
“What I am trying to say is those vehicles are easier to see and are recognised as taxis, while here in the Bahamas any car can be any of the two, SD or TN, you have to look at the plates,” he added.
According to Mr Sands, there are 1,135 taxis registered in New Providence alone.
However, he noted that when the sector is compared to the “constantly growing” self-drive rental car sector, “it is greatly outpaced.”
Mr Sands explained that the longstanding moratorium on taxi plates has halted the growth of that sector and pushed a lot of modern-day entrepreneurs toward the “open for business” model of the self-drive sector.
He asserted: “There are way more SD plates out there. I mean a lot, roughly 5,000 or so of them are out there and as it stands, because the issuance of new plates is controlled by the (Road Traffic) board, I can’t say if more will be issued.”
“We have about 50 or so operators out there, operating with thousands of plates. Those plates can be placed on any car… that’s why we have agreed to go forward with the change of the taxi plates.”
In January, taxi drivers protested at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA), where they allege that limousine drivers and tour operators have been taking their business for years.
At the time, Bahamas Taxi Union President Wesley Ferguson said taxi drivers also had issues at Atlantis, Baha Mar and Prince George Wharf that need to be resolved.
To date, both Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and Mr Wells have made promises to union members, promoting plans to address concerns raised about the sector.