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Taxi reforms to force 'boot straps pull up'

Minister of Transport Jobeth Coleby-Davis and BHTA President Robert Sands met with members of the Bahamas Taxicab Union (BTU) and the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) last Wednesday.
Photo: Anton Thompson/BIS

Minister of Transport Jobeth Coleby-Davis and BHTA President Robert Sands met with members of the Bahamas Taxicab Union (BTU) and the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) last Wednesday. Photo: Anton Thompson/BIS

• And cure long-standing 'elevated level of complaints'

• Transportation reform 'pivotal' to tourism sustainability

• Tourism chief: 'Foundation laid' to end visitor issues

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A senior hotelier yesterday voiced optimism that taxi industry reform will cure "the elevated level of complaints" from tourists by forcing a minority of offending drivers to "pull their boot straps up".

Robert Sands, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association's (BHTA) president, told Tribune Business the growing partnership between the tourism industry, Ministry of Transport and Housing, Ministry of Tourism and the taxi cab union is "laying the foundation to correct" an unsatisfactory ground transportation experience that visitors have been complaining about for too long.

Describing the reforms as "pivotal" to the tourism sector's long-term sustainability, he added that while the majority of taxi drivers are "true ambassadors for tourism" these changes should force below-standard operators to raise their performance and compliance with rules and regulations that will soon include a "code of conduct".

Speaking after stakeholders met on Wednesday to further progress change, Mr Sands told this newspaper: "There have been a number of entities working collaboratively to ensure some of these reforms take place. We're also encouraged by the fact the Government has agreed to a reasonable fare increase for the taxi drivers, which was a huge issue for them. We're very hopeful the gazzetting of those rates will take place in a timely fashion."

While Wesley Ferguson, the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union's president, has been pushing for a 25-30 percent rate increase to ensure drivers and franchise holders can absorb increased fuel and operating costs, and still make money, both he, other union representatives and government officials have yet to provide details on the extent of the increase Bahamian and tourist passengers will face.

The new rates have to first be published in the official government gazzette before they can take effect. Once that happens, Mr Sands disclosed that stakeholders can move on to address other issues such as "finalising" the code of conduct that will establish standards of behaviour that drivers must sign up to abide by.

A "cab service app" will also be introduced, where tourists will be able to put in the taxi's number, comment on the quality of service and provide feedback electronically to the company operating it on the Ministry of Transport and Housing's behalf. This will identify where action needs to be taken, and enforcement of the 'code of conduct' and other laws, rules and regulations will begin once all these efforts are properly rolled out.

Praising Jobeth Coleby-Davis, minister of transport and housing, for "working on this in a time sensitive manner" with the tourism and taxi industries, the BHTA president said his sector had brought their concerns and guest complaints "to the attention of the Government" over the last three to four months.

"We see this as pivotal in terms of reducing the level of guest dissatisfaction and raising the level of guest satisfaction, and will continue to work towards the sustainability of the tourism sector for the future," Mr Sands told Tribune Business. "These initiatives, once implemented and once enforced, will go a long way to elevating the profile of the guest experience in tourism in The Bahamas.

"It was as a direct result of the elevated level of complaints we were receiving in this particular sector of our business that we decided to increase our push for more transformation and reform in this area. The dissatisfaction levels, and levels of complaints, have been going on for a long period of time.

"Now we're very satisfied that by addressing them head on with stakeholders we will see some meaningful results and improvements. There's no question some of these issues have been going on for a long period of time. This is not the majority. The majority of taxi cab drivers are true ambassadors for tourism in the country but there was certainly an element that needed their boot straps pulled up.

"We have to address certain concerns so that we raise the percentage of persons compliant under the rules and regulations that exist, and now this 'code of conduct'." Mr Sands did not specify the nature of visitor complaints about their ground transportation experience, or quantify the volume.

"The greatest level of satisfaction that a tourism resort or destination can produce is that visitor expectations are exceeded or met," he said, "and once they leave the property they recommend the destination to family and friends. If we put these measures in place, and elevate the guest experience in the destination, it is likely they will recommend to family and friends to return to the islands of The Bahamas."

Pledging that "similar concerns" over ground transportation in the Family Islands will also be addressed, Mr Sands added: "There are different elements that make up the whole guest experience. Accommodation is just one element of it. Transportation is a vital part of the linkage with the tourism experience. For many visitors, if not the first then it is the second line to greet them, and often the last to bid them farewell.

"First and last impressions are extremely important in any tourism destination. I think the mere fact the parties and stakeholders came together and put in place these transformative measures and new codes, we have laid the foundation for beginning to correct a situation that, in the end, will only bring additional enhancement and comfort to the tourism product in The Bahamas."

Lanecia Darville, the Road Traffic Authority’s chair, last week said the regulator agreed with the tourism 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”.

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. “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.”

Comments

AnObserver 1 year, 1 month ago

We desperately just need to eliminate the idea of taxi plates, and allow drivers to register with ride-sharing apps. Pretty much everywhere else I travel in the world, when I need a taxi, I open an app, push a few buttons, walk outside, and there is a car there waiting for me. I know the timing, I know the costs, and I know the route and can call out the driver if they are trying to run up the meter.

Contrast that to The Bahamas, I've been left waiting for over an hour after asking a hotel to call a taxi. I've had three show up and argue over who's fare it is, and I've had a drivers taking circuitous routes to get a bigger fair.

Emilio26 1 year, 1 month ago

AndreObserver I'm surprised in 2023 The Bahamas hasn't embraced transportation apps like Uber besides it would make it more cost efficient and convenient for drivers and customers.

moncurcool 1 year, 1 month ago

Just hot air.

What are the changes?

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