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Fahy: minicars legislation on hold

Taxi drivers packed out Warwick Workmen's Club to hear Senator Michael Fahy talk on minicar legislation (Photo by Lisa Simpson)

A bill that would let tourists rent minicars will not be debated in the House of Assembly today.

Senator Michael Fahy, the tourism minister, made the announcement at a meeting organised by the Bermuda Taxi Owners and Operators Association last night.

However, BTOA president Leo Simmons later called on minibus and taxi drivers to make a “sacrifice”, attend the House today and “lay down for everything they put forward to us”.

“What we’re going to do is carry this over,” Mr Fahy said at the beginning of the meeting. “It’s not going to be debated tomorrow. It is simply to stay on the Order Paper.”

He added that in the meantime a committee could be formed “from this body” to meet with the ministry and “sit down and talk about these particular issues”.

After the meeting, a ministry spokesman said Mr Fahy had arranged to meet Mr Simmons to discuss the issue of quadricycles for rent and other industry issues.

More than 200 taxi drivers attended the sometimes heated meeting at the Warwick Workmen’s Club to voice their concerns over the Motor Car Amendment Act (No 2) 2016.

While the news that the legislation would not be debated today was welcomed, others called for it to be withdrawn entirely, insisting that carrying it over would leave it open to be debated when the House convenes again in the autumn.

One driver said pushing the bill through would be akin to “political suicide”, adding that “we don’t want no other competition on the roads with us”. Others accused the minister of already having made up his mind and dealing with the matter in the same way he did the Pathways to Status legislation.

However, Mr Fahy responded that he had learnt his lesson “the hard way”, adding that he had not made up his mind, that he had heard the frustration of drivers “loud and clear” and that he was “very happy to sit down with representatives of the industry”.

Another driver accused the Minister of “taking business from these people”, questioning why Mr Fahy was trying to make their job “even harder” when it had “not been easy to make a living these last couple of years” and another insisted that rental cars “are actually more dangerous to the public” than livery cycles.

“To say that these people are demanding it, is a lie,” said another driver, who also accused the Government and hotels of refusing to work with taxi drivers.

“We’re on the bottom of the rung and no one regards us,” he said, adding that taxi drivers promote Bermuda the most.

“What are you doing for us? Respect us, recognise us and reward us.”

After Mr Fahy left the meeting, which was also attended by shadow transport minister Lawrence Scott, Mr Simmons called on taxi drivers and minibus drivers to make a “sacrifice”.

“This is our industry and we need to protect it. We cannot rely on Government and legislation to protect our industry.”

“Are we prepared to park our taxis? That means not just for tomorrow. That means for Saturday, when there’s a one-day ship in and there’s 5,000 people on the island.”

“Let’s go up to the House and sit in the gallery so when they look at us they know what we’re doing. We’re all going to lay down for everything they put forward to us.”

His suggestion was met with roaring applause.

Meanwhile, Mr Scott said he would give the minister the “benefit of the doubt” and invited all the drivers present to attend the House of Assembly today so that he could communicate to them directly that the Bill would indeed not be debated.

He also assured them that he would request that the substantive minister Grant Gibbons withdraw the Act entirely.

“Nothing should happen in transportation, nothing should happen on our roads without your approval, without your support, without your consultation.”

The legislation got a poor reception earlier in the week, criticised as a surprise change that could prove detrimental to taxis.

However, in a statement issued yesterday, the Bermuda Tourism Authority said it “strongly” supported the idea of introducing electric mini cars for tourists, which stood to enhance the island as a destination. And environmental group Greenrock gave guarded support for the legislation, although the organisation said the initiative should be confined to electric vehicles, and called for more public consultation to be undertaken.

In a statement released after the meeting, a spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities said Mr Simmons had agreed to assist Mr Fahy in striking a committee to “examine the matter of the introduction of quadricycles for rent in Bermuda and discuss a number of other outstanding matters related to the transportation industry generally”.

He added that the minister is “keen to resolve a number of outstanding issues in the industry and hopes that constructive dialogue will be possible to benefit the tourism industry, the public and all industry partners”.