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Tensions over transport cruise policy

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Cruise ship passengers line up to catch a ferry in Dockyard (File photograph)

An altercation at a tourism landmark last week between drivers of a licensed taxi and a “gypsy” cab, in full view of tourists, is indicative of the tensions erupting over government’s public service transportation policy, The Royal Gazette has been told.

It reportedly happened at Crystal Caves after a minor collision between the two vehicles led to a heated exchange.

The newly installed president of the Bermuda Taxi Owners and Operators Association, Ricky Tucker, lamented: “That’s not a good look for tourism.”

The Government confirmed Monday it is enacting legislation to enshrine its controversial rideshare programme into law, allowing approved private car drivers to operate during the peak cruise season from April through September, to address the annual “transportation challenges”.

Ricky Tucker, president of the Bermuda Taxi Owners and Operators Association (Photograph supplied)

A Ministry of Transport spokeswoman said: “We are confident that these measures will lead to a successful year for public service vehicle operators providing services for cruise passengers.”

Mr Tucker and his membership are not as optimistic, and are frustrated that authorities turn a blind eye to the increasing use of unauthorised private cars for hire.

“They are not licensed or insured for this work,“ he said. ”Yet, they are picking up fares. I hear complaints from tourists that they are being ripped off. Then, the industry is blamed.“

Taxi drivers say problems began with the policy to grow cruise ship passengers without any forward planning for transporting the larger numbers.

Mr Tucker said: “We asked Government to give us 150 extra temporary taxi permits to function from April 1 to September 30 and they haven't done anything with that.

“There are probably less than 500 cabs on the road. Even if you had 700 taxis, it wouldn’t be enough. We asked to be allowed bigger taxis, that would seat seven, eight, even 11 people. It is not allowed. They won’t even look at the issue.”

The taxi industry has warned that problems serving passengers at the West End can be expected again this year.

Apart from ridesharing, a government statement said Monday: “The Bermudian, which can carry 700 passengers, has been refitted and will return to service at the end of this month. [There will be] added weekday ferry services to St George to provide an additional 1,100 seats to Hamilton and St George compared to last year.”

They have also invested in constructing two new ferries, each capable of accommodating 550 passengers, expected to be operational within 18 months. There will also be enhancements to the public bus fleet to support transportation needs.

The statement continued: “Through our collaborative efforts with minibus associations, we are enhancing their services in high-traffic areas such as Horseshoe Bay, Long Bay and St George's.”

But taxi drivers remain sceptical.

Mr Tucker said Bermuda does not have the resources to handle the flood of cruise ship visitors from the berth of two large ships at the dockyard, and deal with the transportation needs of Bermudians and other tourists.

“This is not like the past when you had smaller ships in Hamilton and St George’s,” he said. “You didn’t have the volume you have today.

“You're bringing in almost 10,000 people at a time with the two ships. That's flooding the market.

“Then you have almost 500 people coming in, back to back at the airport. You have local people who want service, in addition to tourists at hotels and Airbnb, plus tourists being tendered into St George from the ship.

“It’s too much at one time and it doesn't serve the industry well. This was not very well thought out.

“This year, we’re going to be facing the same hurdles we had last year. I don't see that changing.”

He questioned whether gypsy cabs or rideshare operators will get the necessary insurance.

He said: “The gypsy cabs charge whatever they want because they are not regulated. Government claims they will vet the rideshare drivers, but how will they do that when they don't even vet taxi drivers properly.”

Taxi operator Shari-Lyn Pringle, a member of the previous executive, said: “Our infrastructure was not designed to handle that many people at one time. Never has, and never will be.

“We asked for the additional seasonal licences, but the only thing they want to introduce is a ride share programme.

“It’s early in the season and you can already see problems. Some cruise passengers will automatically walk to the bus, leaving fewer seats for locals who get crowded out.

“Too many tourists is a good problem to have. But it has been a problem for too long and the minister does not seem to be listening.

“Their solution is rideshare, allowing private citizens to use their private cars as public transportation.

“You only need one thing to go wrong, before we are all painted with the same brush.“

Taxi operator Shari-Lynn Pringle believes troubles with the transport of cruise passengers this year are inevitable (File photograph)

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Published May 07, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 08, 2024 at 8:04 am)

Tensions over transport cruise policy

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