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Taxi leader: it’s a safety issue

Taxi drivers took part in a procession across Bermuda in demonstration against plans to allow tourists to rent minicars (Photograph by Lisa Simpson)

The president of the Bermuda Taxi Owners and Operators Association has defended the industrial action taken by taxi drivers this weekend in protest over legislation that would let tourists rent minicars.

Taxi drivers pressed ahead with their protest despite late talks with Senator Michael Fahy, the transport minister, which prompted minibus drivers to drop their threat of action.

Speaking to The Royal Gazette this afternoon, Leo Simmons said he wanted to make it “perfectly clear” that the drivers were protesting because they are concerned about the wider safety implications and environmental effects, and that this Bill could open the door to allowing larger rental cars on the island.

“A lot of people think we are protesting just to protest. It’s not about money, it’s about safety for everyone,” he said. “This Bill will affect the everyday life of locals. We are looking at this not just from a taxi point of view. It may affect 10 per cent of our business but we’re looking at the safety generally of our people on the road on a daily basis.”

He added that most Bermudians drive to work and questioned how they would feel if they encountered tourists driving on the wrong side of the road or those driving drunk.

“It puts people in danger,” he said. “Do we really want carnage on the road?”

He also pointed to the number of road traffic fatalities happening in Bermuda, which he said are already “carnage”.

About 30 drivers demonstrated against the Motor Car Amendment (No 2) Act 2016 at the House of Assembly yesterday, vowing to withdraw their labour if legislation allowing tourists to rent minicars was not withdrawn.

Despite the Bill being carried over until September and Mr Fahy urging them to reconsider, Mr Simmons said yesterday that taxi drivers would “follow through with our action until Monday”.

Speaking this afternoon, he said that while there had been no further former talks with the Bermuda Government, he had spoken to Michael Dunkley, the Premier, who expressed his concern about what was happening and was “just seeing if everything is OK”.

“He understands out plight,” Mr Simmons said. “He knows how we feel.”

About two dozen of the drivers who had withdrawn their labour took part in a motorcade procession across the island today.

“It’s having the desired effect,” Mr Simmons said, adding that they wanted to bring the issue “to the forefront so that people can see what we are doing, that we are making a concerted stand, not just for us but the public as a whole”.

He said the intent was also to make tourists aware of what the Government was trying to do and while some locals passing the motorcade had made “obscene gestures”, he said tourists had been very supportive, with many saying they would not want to drive in Bermuda. Others, he said, suggested the drivers start a petition that they would be happy to sign.

The procession started in Dockyard this morning and about 25 cars made their way to LF Wade International Airport, stopping by the Hamilton Princess and the Southampton Fairmont. Mr Simmons said he had heard from about another 30 drivers who had also withdrawn labour today.

When asked if there were any other processions planned for tomorrow, Mr Simmons responded: “Anything can happen.”

Mr Simmons also took the opportunity to extend the drivers’ condolences to the family of their fellow taxi driver, Cofield Robinson, on his passing.