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Taxi drivers working on plan for centralised dispatch system

Lawrence Scott, the Minister of Transport (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Taxi drivers are working on a formal proposal to present to the Government on the implementation of a modern centralised dispatch system aimed at improving the industry.

The Bermuda Taxi Owners and Operators Association met David Burt, the Premier; Lawrence Scott, the Minister of Transport; and Jasmine Smith, the director of the Transport Control Department and Acting Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Transport, to discuss concerns and recommendations on Friday.

The industry has been pushing for a centralised dispatch system for a decade but during the meeting it was established that clarity was needed from the industry on exactly how such a system would work and be implemented.

According to a letter from the BTOA executive to members after the meeting, seen by this newspaper, the Premier said that because he was a shareholder with a dispatch company [Hitch], he would defer the issue to Mr Scott.

The letter said: “It has been demonstrated and agreed that everyone has a different concept of what central digital dispatch actually means. We have been asked to provide the foundation of what this would look like. The Premier … deferred to the Minister of Transport due to his association with a dispatch company.

“We feel it is the only thing that has not been tried and it could greatly improve transportation for both locals and visitors. It has never been tried, only talked about for in excess of ten years. This item was on the 31-item wish list, which was formed from the 2019 [Transport] Green Paper.”

Mr Scott told The Royal Gazette this week that clarity was needed on a “centralised digital dispatch”, which he said was different from previous proposals described as central dispatch.

He said: “There is a difference between central dispatching and central digital dispatching and that is a fundamental change. Yes, we did look into central dispatching [previously], which we said could not work.

“It was agreed in the meeting with the BTOA that the definition of central digital dispatch is different depending on who you speak to. What was proposed and volunteered by the [BTOA] executive was for them to look into central digital dispatch, put the proposal in writing and submit it to the ministry.

“At the moment we are not considering central dispatch or central digital dispatch but, depending on what is submitted to us from the executive, we might want to revisit it. The Premier’s main focus is ensuring that we can handle the spikes in demand when they arise without having too big a fleet, where there is not enough work for everyone.”

Ricky Tucker, the vice-president of the BTOA, said that while the details were being hashed out, it was hoped that a central digital dispatch would enable pre-arranged booking, cut down on wait times and allow passengers to see where vehicles were located in real time, while liaising directly with drivers.

He said the association was considering a dispatch that had buy-in from all taxi owners so there would be no conflicts of interest and there would be a vested interest by all involved to provide good service.

The association said that the Premier and transport minister said a suggested fuel rebate for the industry would be problematic considering many drivers used their vehicles for personal use. Members were asked to consider an alternative form of relief.

Members also reiterated concerns that there had not been a fare increase in the industry since 2014 and that they supported bringing forward the rate- three fare band from midnight to start at 9pm.

“Currently a full time driver has to work up to 12 hours before receiving what other types of workers receive as overtime,” the letter said. “We hope that this change would encourage operators to stay out a little longer and, for those who work unsociable hours, to come out a little earlier.”

Last month, Mr Scott said that taxi fares would rise, but that the network would be bigger and more efficient under a proposed new shake-up of the industry he would be bringing to Cabinet in the next few weeks.

Mr Scott said he agreed with BTOA calls to bring forward the rate-three band.

Issues around permit fees for different types of vehicles, such as minibuses and limos were also raised. Mr Tucker said it was important that permit fees and fares must be comparable across the board.

Mr Scott expects legislation on the modernisation of the industry to be tabled in the House of Assembly “this side of the New Year”.

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Published October 21, 2022 at 7:03 am (Updated October 21, 2022 at 10:35 am)

Taxi drivers working on plan for centralised dispatch system

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