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HomeNewsArchivesTAXI DRIVERS, INNKEEPERS SEEK DOCK SOLUTIONS

TAXI DRIVERS, INNKEEPERS SEEK DOCK SOLUTIONS

Last weekend's assault of a St. John woman by an off-duty policeman wasn't discussed at a meeting called by island administrator Julien Harley and held behind closed doors Wednesday at the Battery.
What was discussed were the Cruz Bay Dock area parking problems that contributed to the assault.
Representatives of the St. John Accommodations Council and St. John Taxi Services, the local taxi association, were asked to take part. About 30 did so, meeting for nearly two hours with Harley and Lt. Rene Garcia of the Police Department.
According to an Accommodations Council member who attended the meeting, the organization plans to apply to the Property and Procurement Department to lease six of the estimated 25 parking spaces near the dock in Cruz Bay. "The taxi association is using 16 to 18 of them, one is for handicapped access and there are six to eight for the public," this individual said, adding that current leases "are not being enforced."
Kenneth Ellis, a Taxi Services member, said Friday that the number of vehicles the parking area can accommodate depends on the size of the vehicles. The space will hold "about 15 safari buses," he said. He and other taxi drivers said reports the association leases parking space by the dock for $1 a year were not accurate; however, he said he could not cite the actual amount. "It's being renegotiated," he said. "We don't know if it's going to be raised or lowered or what."
Property and Procurement has no office or personnel based on St. John. Dwayne Benjamin in the St. Thomas offices said Friday that the $1 rate remains in effect but that "a proposal has been made to charge an adequate and equitable rate, given the state of the government's finances." Leases are for one year at a time, he said, but he could not say how many are held by the taxi association.
The problem that led to Saturday's assault on a vacation villa manager by an off-duty, out-of-uniform police officer identified by The Daily News as Eugene Somersall is nothing new. For years, the number of cars, jeeps, urban recreational vehicles, vans and safari buses waiting to pick up passengers from docking ferries at peak times has far exceeded the number of parking spaces available by the dock.
Those with no place to park and passengers to meet customarily form a waiting line that effectively blocks traffic seeking to exit the area. Taxi drivers have complained that privately operated courtesy vehicles are left unattended in the line while drivers go out on the dock to fetch customers and their luggage. Accommodations Council members have countered that they have no choice. Tensions have led to altercations, and only now is a concerted effort being made to reach consensus on how best to resolve the situation, council members say.
Taxi Services treasurer Hayden Smith said the parties agreed at the Wednesday meeting that courtesy car drivers will stay in the vicinity of their vehicles so they can move from the waiting lane when taxi drivers need to leave. "We're trying to resolve the problem," he said.
Villa managers said they would try to share the greeting duties while making sure drivers remain near their vehicles in the line. The need for better communication between the taxi dispatchers and the courtesy car drivers was noted.
The Accommodations Council has about 30 members representing virtually every overnight accommodation on the island, from small hotels to private villas to the Westin and Caneel Bay Resorts. Members "handle over 300 private villas, over 100 condos, several small inns, both campgrounds [Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay] and the two major resort hotels," Hildebrand said. Most of the courtesy vehicles are "Jeep Cherokee size," she said.
As part of the vacation package, she said, "most of our members have to meet their guests at the dock, take them to the car rental [or] take them to the guest house. It's a very important service we provide." Same thing when it's time to head back to St. Thomas to catch a flight home. About a dozen vehicles make the trip to the dock three times daily, she said, mainly between 2 and 6 p.m.
Taxi drivers finding the waiting lane blocked by driverless cars have on occasion called the police. As a result, Hildebrand said, officers "have kept us moving and that has been a problem. . . It's kept us from greeting our people."
According to witnesses, the situation reached a flash point Saturday when the villa manager and a taxi driver got into an altercation. The woman started to leave to seek assistance from a uniformed officer on duty nearby but was stopped by the off-duty officer who reportedly grabbed her by the left breast and slammed her against a vehicle at least a half-dozen times in full view of dozens of people.
The uniformed officer came to the scene, intervened, and subsequently issued two parking tickets to the woman, Garcia said later. He said he was investigating the matter and might turn it over to the police Internal Affairs Division on St. Thomas.
Hildebrand said Wednesday's meeting was an effective forum for addressing the conflicts between the taxi and council drivers. "Everybody who was there was heard; nobody was overlooked," she said. "And everybody was looking for solutions." The best thing to come out of the meeting, she added, was the decision for a smaller group representing the concerned parties to continue to meet.

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Last weekend's assault of a St. John woman by an off-duty policeman wasn't discussed at a meeting called by island administrator Julien Harley and held behind closed doors Wednesday at the Battery.
What was discussed were the Cruz Bay Dock area parking problems that contributed to the assault.
Representatives of the St. John Accommodations Council and St. John Taxi Services, the local taxi association, were asked to take part. About 30 did so, meeting for nearly two hours with Harley and Lt. Rene Garcia of the Police Department.
According to an Accommodations Council member who attended the meeting, the organization plans to apply to the Property and Procurement Department to lease six of the estimated 25 parking spaces near the dock in Cruz Bay. "The taxi association is using 16 to 18 of them, one is for handicapped access and there are six to eight for the public," this individual said, adding that current leases "are not being enforced."
Kenneth Ellis, a Taxi Services member, said Friday that the number of vehicles the parking area can accommodate depends on the size of the vehicles. The space will hold "about 15 safari buses," he said. He and other taxi drivers said reports the association leases parking space by the dock for $1 a year were not accurate; however, he said he could not cite the actual amount. "It's being renegotiated," he said. "We don't know if it's going to be raised or lowered or what."
Property and Procurement has no office or personnel based on St. John. Dwayne Benjamin in the St. Thomas offices said Friday that the $1 rate remains in effect but that "a proposal has been made to charge an adequate and equitable rate, given the state of the government's finances." Leases are for one year at a time, he said, but he could not say how many are held by the taxi association.
The problem that led to Saturday's assault on a vacation villa manager by an off-duty, out-of-uniform police officer identified by The Daily News as Eugene Somersall is nothing new. For years, the number of cars, jeeps, urban recreational vehicles, vans and safari buses waiting to pick up passengers from docking ferries at peak times has far exceeded the number of parking spaces available by the dock.
Those with no place to park and passengers to meet customarily form a waiting line that effectively blocks traffic seeking to exit the area. Taxi drivers have complained that privately operated courtesy vehicles are left unattended in the line while drivers go out on the dock to fetch customers and their luggage. Accommodations Council members have countered that they have no choice. Tensions have led to altercations, and only now is a concerted effort being made to reach consensus on how best to resolve the situation, council members say.
Taxi Services treasurer Hayden Smith said the parties agreed at the Wednesday meeting that courtesy car drivers will stay in the vicinity of their vehicles so they can move from the waiting lane when taxi drivers need to leave. "We're trying to resolve the problem," he said.
Villa managers said they would try to share the greeting duties while making sure drivers remain near their vehicles in the line. The need for better communication between the taxi dispatchers and the courtesy car drivers was noted.
The Accommodations Council has about 30 members representing virtually every overnight accommodation on the island, from small hotels to private villas to the Westin and Caneel Bay Resorts. Members "handle over 300 private villas, over 100 condos, several small inns, both campgrounds [Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay] and the two major resort hotels," Hildebrand said. Most of the courtesy vehicles are "Jeep Cherokee size," she said.
As part of the vacation package, she said, "most of our members have to meet their guests at the dock, take them to the car rental [or] take them to the guest house. It's a very important service we provide." Same thing when it's time to head back to St. Thomas to catch a flight home. About a dozen vehicles make the trip to the dock three times daily, she said, mainly between 2 and 6 p.m.
Taxi drivers finding the waiting lane blocked by driverless cars have on occasion called the police. As a result, Hildebrand said, officers "have kept us moving and that has been a problem. . . It's kept us from greeting our people."
According to witnesses, the situation reached a flash point Saturday when the villa manager and a taxi driver got into an altercation. The woman started to leave to seek assistance from a uniformed officer on duty nearby but was stopped by the off-duty officer who reportedly grabbed her by the left breast and slammed her against a vehicle at least a half-dozen times in full view of dozens of people.
The uniformed officer came to the scene, intervened, and subsequently issued two parking tickets to the woman, Garcia said later. He said he was investigating the matter and might turn it over to the police Internal Affairs Division on St. Thomas.
Hildebrand said Wednesday's meeting was an effective forum for addressing the conflicts between the taxi and council drivers. "Everybody who was there was heard; nobody was overlooked," she said. "And everybody was looking for solutions." The best thing to come out of the meeting, she added, was the decision for a smaller group representing the concerned parties to continue to meet.