Rising gas prices squeezing taxi owners’ income
With cab fares locked in, soaring gas prices are sinking the profits of Bermuda’s taxi drivers. That’s prompting drivers to organise to get their voices heard.
Taxi driver Leopold Kuchler says he doesn’t even think about driving around with his air conditioning on anymore anything to keep his taxi from wasting any more precious petroleum now that gas prices are more than $2.11 a litre for regular and $1.94 for diesel.
“It’s absolutely absurd,” Mr Kuchler said. “We [drivers] watch every 16th of the month. We check the pumps to see the new prices and they just keep going up and up and up.”
Gas prices have shot up ten percent since a year ago and five percent in just the last month, cutting into drivers’ take-home pay. Over the past year, Mr Kuchler says higher fuel prices have cost him between one-quarter and one-third of his take-home pay.
“I started work this morning at 4am and I drove until 2.15. My gross take was $101. I had to pay $30 of that at the pump, which leaves me with $71. This is devastating. So, when I leave here, I’m going to have to work right through the night. I have to.”
Mr Kuchler says higher fuel prices, coupled with no increases in cab fare rates is partly what sparked some of the island’s 600 taxi permit holders to form a new organisation called Bermuda Taxi Owners and Associates (BTOA).
Kuchler, the organisation’s newly-elected President says never mind the GPS controversy, drivers are hurting financially. “We have huge issues. The economy is number one,” he says. “To take home only $71 out of $101 that’s 30 percent going to fuel. And that just factors in gas.”
Dennis Hollis, a new member of the BTOA, has been a taxi driver for 52 years. He says there are other costs to factor in besides gas prices. “In January, when we license our vehicles, we have to pay the licensing fee, the insurance and employment tax. It all comes at once. We spend a lot of money on operating a taxi and we’re not getting any help. We’re not getting any breaks on the fuel prices. That’s why we’ve formed this association.”
Mr Kuchler adds that drivers with older vehicles are also often hit with high maintenance costs before they can get licensed. “The worse the economy gets, the more the mechanical bill is,” he said. “We are milked in every way, that’s the reality. But we haven’t had an increase in our rate. And we cannot say now that we want an increase in our rate because who’s going to call a cab then? There are no tourists, we’re losing international business and we’re getting fewer new people in.”
“We should get concessions from the government. The reality is, in the last five or six years, our income is way down,” Mr Hollis said. “Everybody’s cutting back. People aren’t catching taxis like they used to. I’ve never seen so many taxis just sitting there down on Front Street.”
Mr Kuchler and Mr Hollis say so far, the BTOA has a healthy mixture of young, energetic as well as senior, more experienced drivers looking to organise, put politics aside and begin more effective talks with Government.
“We need to organise because people won’t respect you if you’re not organised,” Mr Hollis said. “We are an organised and completely independent association, not affiliated with any other taxi association or dispatching company.”
Mr Kuchler says at every monthly meeting, members will have a chance to air their concerns in an open forum, something they haven’t had in the past. “We hope to become one strong organisation. And we want to assure prospective members this association will be working together in unity and solidarity with full transparency toward achieving a common goal.”
Drivers interested in becoming a member of the BTOA can text or ring Mr Kuchler on 505-3300 or Mr Hollis on 334-7480.
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