By YOURI KEMP
The Bahamas Taxi Cab Union’s president yesterday hit out at the appearance of “outdated” rate cards that hotels are allegedly being encouraged to issue to their guests to ensure they are not over-charged.
Wesley Ferguson told Tribune Business he believes the Ministry of Housing and Transport has encouraged this after he threatened that the industry - feeling the Government was neglecting the issue - would implement its own rate increase to help offset high gas prices and other inflationary pressures.
While that assertion was unproven, he blasted: “All of a sudden these rate cards have resurfaced.
“When people were asking for them months ago, they were nowhere to be found. This is Minister Coleby-Davis’ response. She is grasping at straws. This is a response to the fact that I promised that I was going to give the taxi drivers their own increase.”
Mr Ferguson said the rate cards are outdated because they “don’t reflect all of the intangibles that come with a taxi ride, like multiple stops, excess baggage and excess passengers”.
But Jobeth Coleby- Davis, minister for housing and transport, speaking ahead of yesterday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, responded: “As it relates to the fares, the legislation speaks to how fares are increased. That is not a task I can take on my own. I have to be guided by the Cabinet of The Bahamas, and I’ve been speaking with them.”
Calling for “caution”, and a balanced approach to taxi industry demands for a fare increase, she added: “We do want to assist persons because we know that a lot of them were out of work during the lockdown, and so our biggest and greatest concern is how we can get families back to work and get more income coming into the home.”
However, Mr Ferguson, described the minister’s response as “convenient”.
“When they don’t want to do something it is enshrined in the law and they have an excuse, but when they want to do something it is done at a snap of the finger,” he added, referring to the issuance of new taxi plates.
The taxi union president added that the issuance of 400 more plates than the sector requested is causing hardship for drivers during the September to November lull in the tourism season because there are not enough fares to go around with extra vehicles on the road.
“The chickens have come home to roost now,” Mr Ferguson said. “This is just the first week in September, and taxi drivers are already complaining.
“They have until December before they see any noticeable increase in visitors.
“Taxi drivers have plenty time to absorb the brunt of what was unleashed upon us without any kind of consideration about what the end result would be, and what the fall-out would be as a result of issuing way too much taxi plates.”
Mrs Coleby-Davis, though, responded: “Actually many of the plates that were given when we did the exercise, that was completely focused on persons that were leasing.
“So they are not new drivers on the road; they just have their own plates. We’re trying to streamline this product where persons are leasing, and then persons are owning and driving, where we can have completely self-employed people in the taxi industry and so that’s what we’re working on.”
The Ministry of Housing and Transport is currently reviewing the taxi industry in an effort to modernise its legislative framework.
As for taxi drivers operating with plates said to be owned by a deceased’s estate, Mrs Coleby-Davis said: “That’s a part of the review we’re having now actually with the Board, and so we’re trying to bring some sort of structure to the programme of issuing taxi and livery.
“So ‘in the estate of’ has been something that we’ve spoken to them on, and I think the team is reviewing those so that they can relieve persons who are also being issued those sorts of plates because that is affecting their business license as well.”