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DELEGATE URGES TOUR FEE FACTIONS TO TALK

Nov. 7, 2001 – Weighing in on the standoff between V.I. National Park officials and local taxi drivers over pending permit fees, Delegate Donna Christian Christensen has urged "all parties to pursue a rational approach to solving the problem."
Park Supt. John King said Wednesday that park authorities will attempt to get a group of tour operators and taxi drivers to come together to develop a workable plan that would satisfy both groups. "I'm hopeful we'll be able to strike some reasonable compromise," King said.
While some senators at a Monday Committee of the Whole meeting urged him to involve the Senate in reaching resolution with the taxi drivers, King said this will not happen. "It is not their prerogative to engage in policymaking for the national park," he said of the legislators.
The rift between park authorities and the taxi drivers developed after the announcement that the park will start charging taxi associations, land tour companies and taxi drivers who conduct independent tours an annual fee to take visitors into the park. The fees are to be imposed beginning Jan. 1.
Park officials held public meetings spanning 1½ years, received extensive media coverage on the plan and took to the airwaves to let people know about it. But many of the taxi drivers claim the move is unfair, saying they didn't know about the impending fees or that any fee is too much. At two recent public meetings on St. John — one called by Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd on Oct. 25 and a Senate Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, the taxi drivers assailed park officials.
However, as Christensen points out in her most recent newsletter, the park is mandated by the National Park Concession Reform Act of 1998 to collect fees from all entrepreneurs who take visitors to the park. Other local tour operators, such as those that take people on daysails, hiking trips and kayak tours, already pay permit fees.
King said at both meetings with taxi drivers that he was willing to negotiate the fee, which now stands at $300 a year for independent tour drivers and drivers moonlighting from their associations and $750 for taxi associations and tour operators. No fee will be assessed drivers who transport passengers from point A to point B and are not considered to be conducting a tour.
Christensen said she though the fees are on the high side, considering the current economic conditions in the territory. However, King said they are on a par with what other tour operators pay. He said they are based on the volume of activity the tour operator does in the park and how much revenue the tours generate. He said small operations pay $300 to $350 a year, with the largest and busiest companies paying $750 a year.
King said the fees defray the cost of implementing the program. "This is not a money- making venture," he said.
Most taxi drivers will come under their taxi or tour association umbrella, King said, and will not need individual permits. He estimates that, when the dust settles on this issue, the park will issue only about 12 to 18 permits for land-based tours.
King also said he is willing to negotiate on what constitutes a "tour." Taxi drivers have said that while they are driving visitors from point A to point B, tourists tell them they want to stop at an overlook for a quick picture. King said one stop might be allowed without a tour permit, but multiple stops constitute a tour.
Christensen also urged independent taxi drivers to form a group so as to pay one group fee of $750 rather than $300 each. "This would be more cost effective to them in the long run," she said.
Park officials advocated the same thing earlier, but the taxi drivers weren't interested.

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Nov. 7, 2001 - Weighing in on the standoff between V.I. National Park officials and local taxi drivers over pending permit fees, Delegate Donna Christian Christensen has urged "all parties to pursue a rational approach to solving the problem."
Park Supt. John King said Wednesday that park authorities will attempt to get a group of tour operators and taxi drivers to come together to develop a workable plan that would satisfy both groups. "I'm hopeful we'll be able to strike some reasonable compromise," King said.
While some senators at a Monday Committee of the Whole meeting urged him to involve the Senate in reaching resolution with the taxi drivers, King said this will not happen. "It is not their prerogative to engage in policymaking for the national park," he said of the legislators.
The rift between park authorities and the taxi drivers developed after the announcement that the park will start charging taxi associations, land tour companies and taxi drivers who conduct independent tours an annual fee to take visitors into the park. The fees are to be imposed beginning Jan. 1.
Park officials held public meetings spanning 1½ years, received extensive media coverage on the plan and took to the airwaves to let people know about it. But many of the taxi drivers claim the move is unfair, saying they didn't know about the impending fees or that any fee is too much. At two recent public meetings on St. John -- one called by Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd on Oct. 25 and a Senate Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, the taxi drivers assailed park officials.
However, as Christensen points out in her most recent newsletter, the park is mandated by the National Park Concession Reform Act of 1998 to collect fees from all entrepreneurs who take visitors to the park. Other local tour operators, such as those that take people on daysails, hiking trips and kayak tours, already pay permit fees.
King said at both meetings with taxi drivers that he was willing to negotiate the fee, which now stands at $300 a year for independent tour drivers and drivers moonlighting from their associations and $750 for taxi associations and tour operators. No fee will be assessed drivers who transport passengers from point A to point B and are not considered to be conducting a tour.
Christensen said she though the fees are on the high side, considering the current economic conditions in the territory. However, King said they are on a par with what other tour operators pay. He said they are based on the volume of activity the tour operator does in the park and how much revenue the tours generate. He said small operations pay $300 to $350 a year, with the largest and busiest companies paying $750 a year.
King said the fees defray the cost of implementing the program. "This is not a money- making venture," he said.
Most taxi drivers will come under their taxi or tour association umbrella, King said, and will not need individual permits. He estimates that, when the dust settles on this issue, the park will issue only about 12 to 18 permits for land-based tours.
King also said he is willing to negotiate on what constitutes a "tour." Taxi drivers have said that while they are driving visitors from point A to point B, tourists tell them they want to stop at an overlook for a quick picture. King said one stop might be allowed without a tour permit, but multiple stops constitute a tour.
Christensen also urged independent taxi drivers to form a group so as to pay one group fee of $750 rather than $300 each. "This would be more cost effective to them in the long run," she said.
Park officials advocated the same thing earlier, but the taxi drivers weren't interested.