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Wednesday, May 18, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesLIBURD TRIES TO MEDIATE DOCK PARKING DISPUTE

LIBURD TRIES TO MEDIATE DOCK PARKING DISPUTE

Efforts are under way to get taxi operators and vacation home managers on St. John to work out their differences over access to parking near the Cruz Bay Dock.
After emerging Monday from the second of two meetings held in recent days, Mary Hildebrand, president of the St. John Accommodations Council, said she felt more assured that a workable agreement can be reached.
Meantime, some members of the St. John Taxi Services Association say they will wait for further developments related to those talks before predicting the shape of any future relationship with the council. Association spokeswoman Lorelei Monsanto said she would not comment on the matter until next Monday, April 24.
A dispute over parking led to a confrontation between a courtesy car driver working for Caribbean Villas and an off-duty police officer near the Cruz Bay dock on March 18. The officer reportedly grabbed the woman's breast, slammed her repeatedly against a parked vehicle and choked her to stifle her screams. An internal police investigation into the matter is under way.
At the time of the incident, a Taxi Services Association member said taxi drivers had been asking police to enforce their exclusive right to taxi stand parking spaces near the island's primary commuter dock.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd played host in his Cruz Bay office to the second meeting, on Monday. He told the accommodations and taxi representatives that there was plenty of room for cooperation. He also expressed reservations about any one group controlling all parking spaces near the dock. Later, he told the Source that after an initially tense atmosphere among the participants eased, talks turned more cooperative. "I thought it went pretty okay," he said.
The Accommodations Council represents small inns, vacation villas, guest houses and hotels on St. John. Many villa managers, especially, send courtesy cars to meet their guests as they arrive on island. Hildebrand said about a dozen courtesy cars make up to three trips a day to the ferry dock, mainly in the afternoon, during peak tourist season.
After the March 18 incident, St. John administrator Julien Harley called the taxi and accommodations parties together to listen to each other's concerns. Taxi officials then said the two groups would meet again at the end of the month to try to reach agreement. But when the parties met on Friday, April 14, at the Cruz Bay Battery, the taxi drivers produced a 1979 agreement with then-Gov. Juan F. Luis giving them control of every parking space from the end of the dock to the gate of the Battery.
Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs agreed at the Friday meeting to charge taxi drivers $540 a month for a one-year lease under the terms of the Luis agreement.
While Friday's turn of events was disturbing, Hildebrand said, she felt reassured after the Monday meeting. "We were somewhat frightened when we learned the leases were controlled by the taxi association," she said. But, she added, "It's not going to be quite the problem we feared."
Hildebrand said a proposal came out of the Monday meeting for a memorandum of understanding to be drawn up between villa managers and the lease holders in which the taxi association would agree to leave unchanged the six parking spaces that are now designated for public parking. At the same time, she said, Accommodations Council members asked that police enforce the 30-minute parking limit posted for those spaces. "Since there was confusion about who was controlling the space, the police were reluctant to enforce it," she said.
Liburd said council representatives first proposed that the six spaces be reserved for their use. He said he asked if they felt such a proposal was realistic or fair to other groups who could also make an argument for needing dedicated parking.
As an alternative, he said, enforcing the half-hour parking limit for the six public spaces on the Battery side would give "everyone" an equal chance to park near the dock. "If the space is 30 minutes, people would be going in and out of there," he said.
Hildebrand praised Liburd for facilitating the meeting and for being a good listener to both sides. She said there was also discussion at the meeting of ways in which council members might incorporate taxi drivers as part of their client services team.
Liburd noted that the transportation services the council wishes to provide for guests might be supplied in part by taxi drivers, thereby reducing the council's need for dockside parking. He recalled, "One lady said, ‘We have to transport our people.' I told her, ‘If you are transporting, you're taking these people's business.'"
The senator suggested that taxi driver Carmen Wesselhoft, who represented the drivers at Monday's meeting, develop a list of reliable drivers villa managers could call on to transport their guests on island. He also said the taxi drivers could make themselves more accessible in the evening, when vacation home guests might want to go out on the town without driving rented vehicles.
Reaction from the taxi association was muted. Association driver Kenneth Ellis said in order for the two sides to reach an agreement, everyone would have to keep an open mind. Wesselhoft referred questions to Monsanto. And Monsanto said she would not comment on the meetings, the lease or access to the dockside parking until Monday.
Liburd said he would like to talk with association members as a group, ideally sometime next week.

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Efforts are under way to get taxi operators and vacation home managers on St. John to work out their differences over access to parking near the Cruz Bay Dock.
After emerging Monday from the second of two meetings held in recent days, Mary Hildebrand, president of the St. John Accommodations Council, said she felt more assured that a workable agreement can be reached.
Meantime, some members of the St. John Taxi Services Association say they will wait for further developments related to those talks before predicting the shape of any future relationship with the council. Association spokeswoman Lorelei Monsanto said she would not comment on the matter until next Monday, April 24.
A dispute over parking led to a confrontation between a courtesy car driver working for Caribbean Villas and an off-duty police officer near the Cruz Bay dock on March 18. The officer reportedly grabbed the woman's breast, slammed her repeatedly against a parked vehicle and choked her to stifle her screams. An internal police investigation into the matter is under way.
At the time of the incident, a Taxi Services Association member said taxi drivers had been asking police to enforce their exclusive right to taxi stand parking spaces near the island's primary commuter dock.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd played host in his Cruz Bay office to the second meeting, on Monday. He told the accommodations and taxi representatives that there was plenty of room for cooperation. He also expressed reservations about any one group controlling all parking spaces near the dock. Later, he told the Source that after an initially tense atmosphere among the participants eased, talks turned more cooperative. "I thought it went pretty okay," he said.
The Accommodations Council represents small inns, vacation villas, guest houses and hotels on St. John. Many villa managers, especially, send courtesy cars to meet their guests as they arrive on island. Hildebrand said about a dozen courtesy cars make up to three trips a day to the ferry dock, mainly in the afternoon, during peak tourist season.
After the March 18 incident, St. John administrator Julien Harley called the taxi and accommodations parties together to listen to each other's concerns. Taxi officials then said the two groups would meet again at the end of the month to try to reach agreement. But when the parties met on Friday, April 14, at the Cruz Bay Battery, the taxi drivers produced a 1979 agreement with then-Gov. Juan F. Luis giving them control of every parking space from the end of the dock to the gate of the Battery.
Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs agreed at the Friday meeting to charge taxi drivers $540 a month for a one-year lease under the terms of the Luis agreement.
While Friday's turn of events was disturbing, Hildebrand said, she felt reassured after the Monday meeting. "We were somewhat frightened when we learned the leases were controlled by the taxi association," she said. But, she added, "It's not going to be quite the problem we feared."
Hildebrand said a proposal came out of the Monday meeting for a memorandum of understanding to be drawn up between villa managers and the lease holders in which the taxi association would agree to leave unchanged the six parking spaces that are now designated for public parking. At the same time, she said, Accommodations Council members asked that police enforce the 30-minute parking limit posted for those spaces. "Since there was confusion about who was controlling the space, the police were reluctant to enforce it," she said.
Liburd said council representatives first proposed that the six spaces be reserved for their use. He said he asked if they felt such a proposal was realistic or fair to other groups who could also make an argument for needing dedicated parking.
As an alternative, he said, enforcing the half-hour parking limit for the six public spaces on the Battery side would give "everyone" an equal chance to park near the dock. "If the space is 30 minutes, people would be going in and out of there," he said.
Hildebrand praised Liburd for facilitating the meeting and for being a good listener to both sides. She said there was also discussion at the meeting of ways in which council members might incorporate taxi drivers as part of their client services team.
Liburd noted that the transportation services the council wishes to provide for guests might be supplied in part by taxi drivers, thereby reducing the council's need for dockside parking. He recalled, "One lady said, ‘We have to transport our people.' I told her, ‘If you are transporting, you're taking these people's business.'"
The senator suggested that taxi driver Carmen Wesselhoft, who represented the drivers at Monday's meeting, develop a list of reliable drivers villa managers could call on to transport their guests on island. He also said the taxi drivers could make themselves more accessible in the evening, when vacation home guests might want to go out on the town without driving rented vehicles.
Reaction from the taxi association was muted. Association driver Kenneth Ellis said in order for the two sides to reach an agreement, everyone would have to keep an open mind. Wesselhoft referred questions to Monsanto. And Monsanto said she would not comment on the meetings, the lease or access to the dockside parking until Monday.
Liburd said he would like to talk with association members as a group, ideally sometime next week.