Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin met with the Grand Bahama Taxi Union (GBTU) on Friday, October 31 in an effort to quell rising tension between taxicab drivers and tour bus operators.
During a recent press conference (Tuesday, October 28), the GBTU informed TheFreeport News that tour bus operators had allegedly engaged in the illegal practice of soliciting walk-off vessel (cruise ship) business that is slated by law (in Statute Law of The Bahamas Road Traffic Chapter 220) for taxicab drivers.
After years of petitioning for intervention by the Ministry of Transport and Aviation to resolve the matter without any success, GBTU president David Jones alleged everything had finally come to a head, which forced taxi drivers to take action that would grab the attention of the minister.
Alleging that the illegal practices undertaken by tour operators has caused the livelihood of taxicab drivers to hang in the balance, Jones said the GBTU was grateful to Minister Hanna-Martin for finally responding to their plea for a meeting.
" Firstly, the Grand Bahama Taxi Union (GBTU) would like to thank Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin for meeting with us this past Friday and listening to the laundry list of concerns we have namely, the illegal practice of tour operators soliciting walk-off vessel business, which undoubtedly is a national issue.
" For years we (GBTU) have been complaining about the illegal practices of the tour bus operators and lobbied for the Transport Minister to travel to Grand Bahama and intervene on our behalf to no avail," said Jones.
" And it is unfortunate that a recent standoff between taxicab drivers and tour bus operators at the Prince George Wharf in New Providence, regarding this very issue, had to occur in order for the minister to respond favorably there," said Jones.
Finding it ironic that during the incident at the Prince George Wharf in New Providence Minister Hanna-Martin immediately condemned the illegal practice and went on record to state that such activities would not be permitted by law to continue, the GBTU wants to know, now, what will be done on its behalf.
" Minister Hanna-Martin has agreed to travel to Grand Bahama on Wednesday, November 5 to meet once again with the GBTU as during the initial meeting matters were simply discussed," Jones claimed.
By law, taxi drivers are allowed to conduct simple transfers and tours that include soliciting walk-off vessel business, unlike tour companies whose businesses are pre-arranged 24 hours in advance.
The GBTU went on to allege that tour companies are now operating 30-minute shuttle service to touristsâ attraction sites (Port Lucaya) on Grand Bahama, further preventing taxi drivers from earning a fare.
Additionally, it is alleged that on-the-ground guests utilizing the service provided by tour bus operators are not spending any funds on island due in part to the timed route of the tour operators and a prepaid card, which can only be used at tour sites in partnership with the tour operators and cruise ship owners.
The GBTU alleges that as a results of the aforementioned, hair braiders, straw vendors, souvenir stores, local service businesses (native restaurants etc.,) and taxi drivers throughout the community not earning any money.
" We (taxicab drivers) will not continue to sit idly by and allow this illegal practice to continue and with the help of Minister Hanna-Martin we expect it to desist.
" As it stands, packages that have not already been sold to visitors onboard the cruise ships are now being sold on the ground at tour booths to tour bus operators, this practice is killing the taxi drivers' livelihood and the government can no longer turn a blind eye to the unlawful dealings.
" A quick resolution was made on behalf of our taxicab brothers and sister in Nassau and the same should be done here on Grand Bahama.
" There are 600 taxi drivers here that need to eat and pay bills too and the tour bus operators should not be allowed to take 90 percent of the business through illegal practices and the GBTU believes Minister Hanna-Martin will ensure that the law is cared out to the letter," said Jones.
Up to press time this daily was unable to confirm with the Minister's office if she will be returning to Grand Bahama on Wednesday for a meeting with the GBTU.
Published Tuesday, November 4, 2014