by Bria King
It may be another two weeks before consensus is reached by the local taxi associations and the Tourism and Port authorities on new measures proposed for the Kingstown Cruise Terminal during the upcoming tourist season.
On Monday September 23, members from both taxi associations met in an emergency meeting to discuss a draft document that they say has the potential to ruin their livelihood.
In addition to paying a one-off seasonal fee of $450 per vehicle to operate at the Cruise Terminal from November to April, the draft policy also outlines a dispatch system where the SVG Port Authority will employ dispatchers to communicate with visitors on behalf of the taxi operators.
Furthermore, only 40 spaces will be allocated at the cruise terminal for taxi operators, which will be filled from a rotation list consisting of no more than 120 taxi operators.
Together, both associations currently have 174 members.
Following their emergency meeting, both taxi associations met with tourism minister, Cecil McKie and officials from the Port Authority on Tuesday to discuss the draft policy that they had received only one day prior.
“They called it a draft document but I told them this is not a draft, this is something that you tell us we have to work with, so with dialogue, we concluded that there were four main items on the document that we had a problem with from day one,” Arrington Burgin, the president of the SVG Professional Taxi Association told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday.
He said that it was decided at Tuesday’s meeting with the tourism minister that both associations would meet with their members to discuss the document and come up with suitable suggestions and ideas before meeting again with tourism officials in two weeks time.
Burgin said that the executives from both taxi associations are scheduled to meet on Sunday for discussions before meeting with their general membership.
He identified the $450 charge, the rotation list, and the dispatching system operated by Port Authority as some of the main areas of contention.
Winston ‘Pops’ Morgan, president of the SVG Taxi Association, also commenting on the issues, said: “We can’t pay money up front; you can’t tell a man he has to pay $450 for the season up front”.
He noted that officials have repeatedly said that St Vincent and the Grenadines is the only port that does not charge taxi operators and they should help with the upkeep of the port.
Morgan suspects that this is the reason the $450 fee is being suggested.
Tourism minister, Cecil McKie said he thought the meeting went well as they were able to identify what the challenges are.
“The document, the draft document that was circulated by the Port was basically a process that has been taking place for a while,” McKie said.
He also said that the document essentially put into writing discussions that have been taking place between the ministry, the Tourism Authority, the Port Authority and the taxi associations.
“Currently, there are no fees charged and we are probably…if not the only country in the region where the port does not charge fees for the taxis and it’s probably one of the only ports where the taxis are allowed to go on the boat itself,” McKie said, referring to the $450 charge listed in the document.
He added: “…I think there were 90 or so calls for this year, so if you break the fees down, it will come to just under EC$5 per call so it’s not an exorbitant fee but I think one of the issues may be coming up with that money up front, for each taxi to come up with that money up front”.
The tourism minister also explained that 120 taxi operators were considered to be sufficient to service any one vessel, but that the numbers on that roster may very well increase to service larger ships.
And McKie said that because the document is a draft, it means that the contents of it are not “set in stone”.