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Taxi drivers face ‘code of conduct’

• Penalties for violators to boost visitor experience

• Compliance linked to industry’s fare rise demands

• Fare announcement proposal set for next week

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Traffic authorities are planning a shake-up of the taxi industry’s regulatory regime that will require drivers to sign-up to, and abide by, a “code of conduct” with an announcement on fare changes due as early as next week.

Lanecia Darville, the Road Traffic Authority’s chairman, told a Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) board of directors meeting that the regulator agreed with the sector’s call for professional standards to be imposed on taxi franchise holders and drivers - with unspecified penalties for violations - as part of the drive to improve the transportation experience for visitors.

Noting that there have been “persistent issues” involving the taxi sector’s interaction with tourists, she said that if the Government were to agree the fare increase that drivers have been demanding then it would want the sector to work with it to improve standards and conduct “in return”.

With visitors frequently complaining about high taxi fares, and alleging they are being “overcharged” and unable to obtain fee schedules, Robert Sands, the BHTA’s president, said the sector’s collaboration with the Government in bid to improve the ground transportation will be “pivotal for the future success of the [tourism] industry”.

With the Association’s transportation experience committee now meeting regularly with the Ministry of Transport and Housing to tackle the issue, he added: “It’s going to make a significant difference to the experience of visitors in this destination. It’s no use to continue to bring more of those people here and send more of them away dissatisfied.”

Ms Darville, acknowledging that it is critical for The Bahamas to “elevate the transportation experience”, said the Road Traffic Authority is already reviewing a draft “code of conduct” for taxi drivers that has been prepared by the BHTA with the “ultimate intent” for it to roll-out industry-wide. She added that drivers and franchise holders could be required to sign up to the code, and agree to abide by it, when they come in bi-annually to renew their licences.

“We know there have been persistent issues with the the transportation experience, particularly from the visitor perspective, for quite some time,” Ms Darville said. “We’re mindful that transportation is essential to our economy, and tourism is the big driver of our economy.

“At the Road Traffic Department and Road Traffic Authority, for too long the focus has really been more so on regulating the vehicles as opposed to regulating the drivers as well as the experience itself. The question is how we can do that.” Ms Darville said the Authority and transport officials “heard a lot of concerns and challenges” when they met with the BHTA committee in March, but also proposed solutions as well.

“One of the things you had all suggested, and we completely agree, was the introduction of a ‘code of conduct’ for taxi franchise holders and drivers,” she added. “We would since have received that draft from you, and are in the process of reviewing that because what we intend to do is ultimately adopt it and it will be promulgated through the Road Traffic Authority. 

“That, we expect, to outline core values and behaviours of franchise holders and drivers. Currently, in most countries, there are standards for professional conduct but I think locally that has been a matter of culture, and there are a lot of practices that are completely unacceptable that are impacting the experience.”

Ms Darville said all taxi drivers and franchise holders will have to sign up to, and agree to be bound by, the proposed “code of conduct” with the Authority still assessing how best to implement and enforce this. Requiring persons to sign up as part of their bi-annual licence renewal process is presently the preferred method for this.

No timeline was given for when the “code of conduct” will be implemented, or for consultation with stakeholders such as the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union. Ms Darville said improved collection of data on what is happening in the taxi industry will work alongside the “code of conduct” so that the authorities and private sector partners will gain “a better understanding of what is happening from the guest or visitor user perspective”.

She added that the Authority plans to “take that information to help us better enforce our code of conduct and administer penalties to persons who are deviating from those standards”. The type and magnitude of such penalties was not disclosed, but Ms Darville said more details on the data collection will be revealed via the Ministry of Transport and Housing next week following its meeting with the tourism industry and other stakeholders.

Suzanne Pattusch, the BHTA’s executive vice-president, together with Mr Sands, both said the “huge fees” demanded by taxis - and the lack of availability of fare schedules - was a major complaint from tourists. In response, Ms Darville said: “One of the initiatives we plan to roll-out is to ensure that there is greater visibility of fares.” 

Mr Sands, though, said: “A lot of drivers are over-charging because they don’t feel that the current fare schedule is financially viable. Where is the Government in terms of addressing this particular issue so we can get to the position of posting the fees and rid ourselves of over-charging?.... I know it’s a hot topic.”

Wesley Ferguson, the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union’s president, has previously called for up to a 30 percent fare increase to enable drivers to maintain profit margins amid higher fuel costs and an escalating cost of living. Ms Darville yesterday said the Government will make an announcement on taxi fares “next week” following the meeting, but did not pre-empt that with any details.

Acknowledging visitor concerns that they are not being charged the correct taxi fares, and that a fare schedule is “not visible”, she added: “The Government has committed, because there’s a recognition that the cost of living has gone up and there is inflation, and so we do understand taxi cab drivers are challenged with the existing fares.

“I think the Government has come to a decision, and something will be proposed to address the issue with taxi drivers. More information as to what that will look like will be announced next week. We are going to be introducing some form of survey, and will be making more information available. We will be heavily leveraging technology in this regard to make sure fares are made available to visitors and anyone for that matter.”

Responding to tourism industry representatives decrying the absence of meters in taxis, Ms Darville said: “That’s required by regulations that all taxis have meters. There are some challenges with enforceability. I can’t say with certainty that all taxis are metered. The regulations do specify minimum fares, from the airport and from point A to point B, and point B to point C etc. Then there are regulations that can be set by time and for you hiring by the hour and every half hour after.

“Those rates will be confirmed, but if we’re giving taxi drivers I guess what they’re asking for or trying to appease them, we’re asking for something in return. And so this is where we’re looking to roll out the ‘code of conduct’ and say to them these are the challenges that we’ve been having by our guests, by our industry stakeholders, and so we need you to help us address that as we work to address what your needs are.”

Comments

themessenger 1 year, 2 months ago

Start with the Jitney drivers, they must have their very own special training facility for assholes.

JackArawak 1 year, 2 months ago

Send an “undercover boss” riding around in the cabs. Yank a few plates. That’ll get their attention.

SP 1 year, 2 months ago

Taxi drivers are among the biggest thieves in the country! These people have no scruples and couldn't care less about tourism.

Taxi drivers are on the front line of visitor experiences. In far too many instances tourists arrive at a hotel with a negative perception of the Bahamas because of unprofessional, crooked taxi drivers.

I don't know how the government intends on policing this group of pirates, but something has to be done with taxi and jitney drivers, and immediately.

There has to be a written fee structure published for taxis to abide by, and anyone caught overstepping the boundaries should have their license revoked. Either we are going to be serious about tourism or not.

There is no room for wrist-slapping and multiple warnings. The bad apples must be weeded out as quickly as possible.

sheeprunner12 1 year, 2 months ago

So, what is the difference between Road Traffic Department & Road Traffic Authority???? Are they competing agencies, all under the same Ministry of Transport or otherwise?????

Why is there so many duplicate (govt) agencies in this country to deal with the same matters???

Someone, please answer that .....................

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