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Fury after minicar rental plans revealed

The Renault Twizy: rough idea of the minicars that could be up for rent by tourists (Stock image)

Legislation for visitors to rent out minicars has come under fire from the Opposition and taxi operators, as well as raising tempers within the already tense ranks of the One Bermuda Alliance.

That Bill, debated last night within the ruling party, is scheduled to go ahead in Friday’s session of Parliament — the last sitting until November. It introduces the possibility for liveries to issue small electronic or gas-driven cars to tourists.

Transport minister Michael Fahy said details for the proposal would be announced at 11am today, and described it as a measure to make roads safer as an alternative to rental bikes.

“These are small,” Senator Fahy said. “They have no luggage space so they won’t compete with taxis. I doubt you would be able to get your golf clubs in there. You will have to have a livery, so there won’t be thousands of extra vehicles coming on to the roads.

“A lot of people are told not to use rental bikes because they aren’t safe.

This is about trying to give options to our visitors.”

However, shadow transport minister Lawrence Scott questioned why the legislation appeared to have been “brought in under the radar” last week, while OBA sources said some Government MPs were left feeling “blindsided”.

Meanwhile, Tafari Outerbridge of Bermuda Island Taxis said the revelation yesterday had left taxi drivers in shock, and that a general meeting was planned for tomorrow night in an effort to get the Act halted.

The legislation, which came before legislators during Friday’s House of Assembly, initially appeared a rehash of the Motor Car Amendment (No 2) Act 2015, tabled in December 2015. It came with a footnote for the minister to amend the citation to 2016.

Grant Gibbons, the Minister of Economic Development, tabled it with the brief remarks that customarily accompany the first reading of a piece of legislation.

However, the new Act’s contents are far removed from its namesake, which pertained to various classes of trailers.

“The old Bill was about raising the charges on trucks, but we worked with the then-minister, Shawn Crockwell, and it got pulled,” Mr Scott told The Royal Gazette.

“Myself and Zane DeSilva met with Mr Crockwell and a technical team. We discussed concerns, we decided it wasn’t the right time, and they did not bring it. That’s the type of consultation we want.

“This current bill has a lot more potential negative implications. They are attacking the taxi industry, one of our pivotal service industries, and adding competition during the peak months without consultation.” Mr Scott added: “The scary thing is that it is Michael Fahy as minister now. If the government does not learn from past mistakes, they are going to have the same response as they did for immigration.”

Party sources said the Bill was unconnected with the previous legislation, but in fact dated back to discussions on allowing rental cars back in 2014.

However, the news appeared to take some OBA MPs by surprise, while a community group dubbed Move Bermuda, calling itself a grass-roots group of concerned citizens, sent out a statement criticising the bill as “stealth legislation”.

Mr Outerbridge said it had come as “a total surprise to every single taxi driver”.

“It’s something we are getting used to with our current Government. I don’t understand why things have to happen in the dark.”

Taxi drivers are to hold a general meeting at 7pm in Warwick Workmen’s Club to discuss their next steps.

Mr Scott pointed out that OBA MP Glen Smith also runs a car dealership, which could arouse suspicions of “insider trading”. However, Mr Smith said last night that the Opposition MP had “failed to do his research”.

“They can’t be more than 150cc. The smallest that I bring in is 800cc, so we are nowhere within that category. These are basically two-seaters, similar to golf carts, and nothing that we would have in our portfolio. I can categorically tell you we don’t bring them in. This legislation opens the market up to entrepreneurs to be in the business.”

Mr Smith said the vehicles that might be used could be comparable to the Renault Twizy, a compact “four-wheel buggy”. Approached with taxi concerns over the lack of consultation, Mr Fahy responded: “This does not compete with the taxi industry. At the height there were thousands of livery cycles for rent. A lot of those businesses have closed, and a lot of that is the result of the decline in tourism. Right now we have increased visitors and the taxi industry is doing much better.

“One has to ask if we believed it would have a detrimental effect on taxis, but it won’t. We are talking about expanding the ability to have some type of small vehicle representing a much safer option for visitors.” If the legislation passes, Mr Fahy said prospective liveries would be able to start on applications, while a regulatory framework with vehicle specifics could then be developed.