By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Royal Caribbean’s planned $50m beach break destination on Paradise Island further “adds insult to injury” for taxi drivers already struggling to earn a living, their union chief said yesterday.
Wesley Ferguson, the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union’s (BTCU) president, in an statement sent to Tribune Business, said: “The BTCU is very concerned over the deal recently signed by the government and Royal Caribbean.
“It is believed to be laden with the potential to negatively affect the already unfair competitive environment under which taxi drivers who operate from the Prince George Dock labour on a daily basis.
“Though I strongly disagree with taxi drivers sleeping on the dock, some of them contend that it is the only way they can make an honest day pay amidst the fierce competition they have to endure from the mega tour companies on a day-to-day basis.”
Mr Ferguson, elaborating on these concerns, told this newspaper: “After all of those tour companies came out there is now a whole slate of busses that congregate at the dock every day, and they carry the lion’s share of the guests that come off of the cruise ships because the cruise ships have hired them to move their guests in large numbers.
“Because of that it diminishes the amount of jobs or fares a taxi driver can get in a day, so they are now resorting to sleeping on the dock so they can get the remainder - or at least a little share - out of what is left over from the tour companies.
“The tour companies already have their work pre-arranged and they don’t have to hustle. They just get the lion’s share because they have some 15, 20 or 30 busses for each company that carry these people in droves, and the taxi driver is left with just the remainder, or whoever decides not to sign up with them. So they end up sleeping on the dock so they can be first on line to at least get a fare for that day.”
Mr Ferguson said there “eventually there is going to be a change” at the dock because Global Ports Holding have taken over the area for its $250m cruise port redevelopment. He added: “The BTCU is on top of that to ensure that we are not grossly disenfranchised.”
While no agreement has yet been signed between the government and Royal Caribbean for the latter’s Royal Beach Club, which it expects to be operational by late 2022, Mr Ferguson said this plan would further deprive taxi drivers of business “with little or no concern for the local Bahamians who they claim they are helping” by taking passengers to Paradise Island by water.
“The cruise passengers sail into Nassau and are ferried across to their private beach, spend a lot of money and are ferried back to the ship and saw nothing of beautiful Nassau,” he added. “The locals get nothing, bearing in mind this end of Paradise Island has no access for vehicular traffic, so taxi drivers, hair braiders, straw market vendors and the local businesses operating in the downtown area once again have been left out.”
Agreeing with the sentiments voiced by downtown Nassau merchants to this newspaper earlier this week, Mr Ferguson “wholeheartedly” feels such a scenario is “totally unfair” to Bahamian-owned businesses, entrepreneurs and employees and needs a rethink.