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Taxi drivers: Government is giving us the runaround

In demand: taxi drivers say that are working hard to keep up with demand (File photograph)

Taxi operators are demanding that the Government come clean over plans for a possible shake-up of the industry.

The Bermuda Taxi Owners and Operators Association also asked that officials “be honest” over speculation that freelance “gypsy” cabs will be allowed to pick up fares in competition with licensed drivers.

BTOA representatives spoke out after David Burt, the Premier, slammed drivers and dispatchers, and hinted that changes to the industry were in the pipeline.

Speaking in the House of Assembly on Friday, Mr Burt claimed that only a skeleton taxi service ran after midnight, making it difficult for partygoers to get home.

Mr Burt, who has an interest in a digital taxi dispatch company, said: “What I have told the Minister of Transport is very simple. If the taxis won’t pick them up, then we need to make it available for others to do so.

“We have to, because we cannot continue to go through this cycle. It is not OK. And so when we speak about acting, the Government must act and the Government will act and I know that the Minister of Transport will close this.”

Responding last night, Ricky Tucker, the vice-president of the BTOA, defended his members, and asked that the Premier explain his remarks.

Mr Tucker said: “Rumours of a desired implementation of a ride-sharing app using gypsy cabs are circulating.

“We believe that, if this is the current government’s intention, they should be honest with the people and should not justify doing this through denigrating the taxi industry.

“We are quite capable of handling additional competition. However, the Government needs to listen and address our needs, as the taxi industry is here to stay.”

The BTOA has been in negotiations with the Government since 2021 over fare prices, which are regulated by the Government. The last increase was introduced nine years ago.

Addressing that issue, Dennis Furbert, the president of the BTOA, said: “We have endured changes in political parties, participated in a public service vehicle modernisation consultation period and seen a change in transport ministers just as we thought we were making some progress.

“Now we are being told that there’s to be a taxi industry overhaul. We feel we are being given the royal runaround. There are things on our list that could be implemented with no affect on transportation as a whole.”

The BTOA also rallied against the Government’s track record in the tourism industry, public transport, and the state of island roads.

Mr Furbert said: “At a time when the taxi industry is doing the heavy lifting for a government which has been unable to open up key hotels to increase the number of beds to air visitors and has found it necessary to schedule more and more cruise ships to come into the island to supplement their revenue, we are proud at the end of each day when we know that between 3,000 and 7,000 visitors have been taken care of and we get an all clear from the airport.

“What good is a public bus system that stops running at midnight and even earlier in some parts of the Island leaving those seeking transportation after this time with only one option?

“The BTOA feels that the Government needs a sustainability report completed on exactly how many more vehicles our deplorable roads can take. It is hoped that the eyebrows of Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce would also be raised. Who wants to come to Bermuda and be stuck in traffic jams and exhaust fumes?“

Mr Burt criticised the taxi industry while paying tribute to Marco Warren, who was killed in a suspected hit-and-run incident in the early hours of May 14.

Describing the incident as a tragedy, Mr Burt went on: “If you call a taxi at two o’clock at night you’re not going to get one. You’re not! These are the facts.”

Last night, the BTOA accused the Premier of using Mr Warren’s death to attack the industry.

Mr Furbert said: “On behalf of the association, we wish to extend our sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr Marco Warren who tragically died on our roads as a result of a possible hit-and-run.

“Everyone has a right to feel safe on our streets, whether a pedestrian or operating a vehicle.”

“We feel that tragedies such as this should not be used as a political opportunity to highlight perceived problems within the transportation industry.

“The statements made by the Premier are groundless, irresponsible and unfair to the hard-working men and women of Bermuda’s taxi industry.

“We will not comment further on this ongoing investigation nor dignify the Premier or others with a response to what Mr Warren may or may not have done before making the decision to walk wherever his final destination may have been.”

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Published May 23, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated May 23, 2023 at 7:19 am)

Taxi drivers: Government is giving us the runaround

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