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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, June 26, 2022


March 29, 2001 — If anybody's going to run a water taxi, Sen. Celestino White Sr. wants to be sure it is someone already in the land-cab business.
White has introduced a bill to tie water taxis to the existing law governing taxicabs. He said Thursday that the version already in the hopper is being revised because "it's not to my liking." He has asked colleagues not to consider the bill until he replaces it with a new draft.
His fear is that the first version could be interpreted to be establishing a water-taxi industry. What he really wants to do is pass "protection legislation" for the existing land-based industry.
Under his proposal, White said no one could obtain a taxi medallion to operate a water taxi; only the taxi association that has been in existence since 1980 could get water-taxi medallions.
On St. Thomas, he said, that would cover any one of four associations; he did not know all their names. He said he did not know about St. Croix or St. John.
"I don't know" if any of the associations who would qualify under the bill are interested in the business, White said. But "I am giving them the right to hold the franchise." They could sublease it to a third party.
Associations and many drivers have opposed water taxis in the past, arguing that they are unfair competition for regular taxicabs.
Harold Baker, director of the V.I. Taxi Commission, said he has discussed the issue with White.
He took no position on the controversy but said of the water taxi, "It's inevitable. It's coming."
The government began issuing taxi medallions in the late 1970s, and there are now approximately 1,600 in the territory, Baker said. They are held in perpetuity, and an owner may use his medallion as collateral for a loan, he can sell or lease it and he can pass it along to his heirs.
The law mandates that each year the government put nine medallions up for sale: three for St. Thomas, three for St. Croix and three for St. John, Baker said. The sale is by closed bid and the minimum bid is $25,000.
Baker said the highest price he knows of being paid in a government sale was $37,000 for a St. John medallion.
Under the first version of White's bill, it appears a would-be water-taxi operator would have to compete for one of the nine medallions sold annually. In the version still in the works, White said he does not even intend to include any mechanism for obtaining a medallion because his intent is not to set up the industry but rather to protect longtime land-taxi drivers if someone else does propose establishing water taxis.

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