Taxi laws ‘need to be enforced’
Taxi law and regulatory changes suggested in a Green Paper on transport are already on the books but not enforced a former president of the industry's association said yesterday.
Leo Simmons, who headed the Bermuda Taxi Owners Association from 2014 to 2017, said that proposals by interested groups in the government paper to tackle a “taxi crisis”, including making it illegal for drivers to refuse rides based on distance or route, were in force.
Mr Simmons added: “It is an enforcement issue. It has been an enforcement issue for years. The change has got to start from the top.
“You have people who sit behind desks making decisions but some are not practical and they have no clue how to enforce it.
“The law also has a lot of loopholes — the taxi association in the past was looking to bring the taxi regulations into the 21st century.”
Mr Simmons highlighted part of the Motor Taxi Regulations 1952 Act which said a “driver of a taxi shall not, while the taxi is standing or plying for hire, refuse to accept a passenger for a lawful journey”.
Another suggestion in the Green Paper was to revoke the licence of any taxi owner whose vehicle was not on the road for the legal minimum of 16 hours a day — which is also already in force.
The Transport Control Department has the authority to enforce regulations but admitted last year that it had not monitored taxi operation times since 2010 because of a “policy decision”.
Mr Simmons said that there was a reluctance by cab drivers to lend out their vehicles to cover the mandated time period because if the substitute driver damaged the car, the insurance bill was the responsibility of the owner.
He added if the second driver was found to have broken the law, TCD would revoke the owner's permit.
Mr Simmons said: “The offence goes against the car and not the person.
“If I have a car and my driver commits an offence, my permit can get suspended but it doesn't affect the driver.
“These are antiquated laws. We tried to get operator's liability insurance so every operator can get their own insurance but it didn't happen.”
Shari-Lynn Pringle, a taxi driver for more than 20 years, added: “I don't think that TCD has the resources to monitor it — TCD could not tell you how many taxis are on the road driving right now, they don't have any way to accurately monitor who is on the road and for how long.
“Finding a second driver to fulfil the 16 hours that is going to respect your business is the difficulty.
“GPS would help to give the dispatch companies a reporting facility but TCD has to enforce that.”
Mr Simmons and Ms Pringle agreed that a central dispatch operation would help tackle the problems faced by the industry.
Ms Pringle added: “Central dispatch is the only way that they are going to be able to pull consistent reports and it would result in better reporting and accountability.”
Mr Simmons said: “Governments have talked about central dispatching for years where all the information comes to one company and all the drivers are all connected.”
Phil Barnett, the president of Island Restaurant Group, said that improvements to the taxi service was a matter of urgency and that a central dispatch system should be a priority.
He added: “Because the taxis in Bermuda are run mostly by a group of individual entrepreneurs, there does need to be a centralised dispatch system that holds them accountable to their public-service licence.
“The bottom line is if taxi drivers don't wish to adhere by the term of their public-service licence, they should give it up to someone who would be willing to do so.”
Mr Barnett said: “Transport minister Zane DeSilva certainly has our industry's full support — he mentioned to the restaurant division that the Green Paper was coming out and that he truly wanted to do something about it because it is killing our business.
“Since the sobriety checkpoints, it has been absolutely horrific. When there is no choice people make poor decisions.”
Mr DeSilva has promised to release 20 special taxi permits to operate during restricted hours to help boost taxi numbers as only 556 out of 600 taxi licences issued are being used.
The Green Paper reported that some had complained that passengers were “verbally abused” by taxi drivers.
But Mr Simmons and Ms Pringle said that incidents where taxi drivers were offensive to customers were rare.
Mr Simmons said: “There are many drivers who do a good job. We do have the odd incident where taxi drivers behave badly, but most are courteous.”
Ms Pringle added: “We shouldn't forget about the driver who stood around with two women after midnight waiting for the Airbnb person to turn up or the driver who helped your 18-year-old daughter get home drunk.
“There are problems but there is so much goodwill out there.”
The Bermuda Taxi Owners Association declined to comment until after a meeting with the Government this week. A transport ministry spokesman said regarding the plans for a central dispatch service: “The Government is committed to ensuring that taxis and other public service vehicles support a strong public transport system that provides consumers with safe travel choices and is fair to owners and drivers.
“In the first instance, we will assess the current model and considering what, if any, changes are required to respond to feedback from the 2019 Transport Green Paper; the introduction of new technologies and systems; and the needs of our visitors and the broader community.
“A central dispatching service is one of the options being considered.”
The transport ministry said last night it would comment further on the taxi trade's views today.
• Establish a central dispatch for all taxis for better regulation
• Introduction of a flat rate for some fares rather than Rate 1/2/3 plus surcharges so customers know what they are paying
• More motorised wheelchair access in taxis
• Increase fares to Rate 3 from 10pm instead of midnight
• Reduce taxi rates — they are too expensive
• Amend legislation so that each vehicle is mandated to have two drivers to fulfil 16-hour rule
• Require all drivers to accept credit cards
• Use a taxi app to satisfy demand after 5pm, and on weekends and holidays
• Implement an island-wide Taxi Ride Share programme with per-person fares booked on demand via an app
• Create a fee for inebriated passengers to pay if they take sick in the taxi