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HomeNewsArchivesTAXI INDUSTRY REJECTS MUCH LOWER PARK FEES

TAXI INDUSTRY REJECTS MUCH LOWER PARK FEES

Nov. 20, 2001 – The latest skirmish in the ongoing feud between the V.I. National Park and the local taxi industry played out Monday when drivers, taxi association representatives and tour operators met with park personnel in what Supt. John King hoped would be a "working group" to agree on negotiable aspects of the park plan to issue permits and charge annual fees for taxi tour operations starting Jan. 1.
"It was pretty unproductive," King said Tuesday.
He said the drivers rehashed many of the complaints made at an Oct. 25 meeting on the subject called by Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and at a Senate Committee of the Whole hearing held Nov. 5 on St. John. The complaints had to do not only with the current conflict but with other issues dating as far back as the park's opening in 1956.
At both of those meetings, many drivers said they would not pay any fees to take tour groups through the park. At Monday's meeting, King reiterated earlier comments that paying a fee was not a negotiable issue; however, he said he could lower the fees. He said the park has offered to drop the fee for independent drivers to $75 a year from $300, and for tour operators and taxi associations to $250 a year from $750. A taxi association fee would cover all association members.
According to King, the dozen taxi drivers and tour operators at the meeting nixed that proposal, instead offering to pay $1 a year for independent drivers and $5 for tour operators. "That's just insulting," King said. "We've made our best and final offer."
He said the park needs to recoup the cost of administering the permitting program, which is similar to those in place at the other 384 national parks. The permits and fees are required only of individuals and entities conducting tours. Drivers who strictly transport passengers from point A to point B are not included.
Currently, tour operators of such activities as daysails, kayak tours and hiking excursion pay V.I. National Park fees. Smaller businesses pay $300 a year and larger ones, $750 a year.
Taxi driver Randy Thomas, who attended Monday's "working group" meeting, said that taxi drivers do not yet have a counter-offer, but plan to present one.
They are running out of time. King has given them until next Monday to come up with a reasonable proposal.
At Monday's meeting, King said, drivers brought up the issue of who owns the roads through the park. While the National Park Service contends that it does, Liburd, Delegate Donna Christian Christensen and the drivers say that the roads are V.I. government property. King and Liburd both have said that the roads issue will probably be decided in court.
However, King also noted that many mainland national parks have state and county roads running through them, and that tour operators in those locations pay fees to use the park.
Christensen, who attended the working group meeting, said she sees the argument between park officials and the taxi industry as a symptom of a bigger problem. "Those people don't have a sense of being stakeholders in the park," she said of the drivers. She said that most "grassroots" St. John residents don't hold concession permits for the other activities allowed in the park, either.
While park officials accept applications from anyone seeking to provide commercial services within the park, Christensen said, they need to put effort into recruiting residents who may not have the skills needed to set up such businesses. She suggested that the U.S. Small Business Administration and V.I. Small Business Development Agency could help with that kind of outreach.
Christensen said the standoff between park officials and the taxi industry also reflects the fact that the park occupies much of St. John. Additionally, she said, the drivers are miffed because they are being told to pay a fee not assessed their counterparts on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Park officials held many public meetings over the course of a year and a half to obtain public input to help shape the new Commercial Services Plan, adopted last summer, that establishes the annual fee. The taxi drivers have complained that they were unaware the fees and permits were in the pipeline. As the Jan. 1 deadline for implementing the plan loomed, their objections began to surface.

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Nov. 20, 2001 - The latest skirmish in the ongoing feud between the V.I. National Park and the local taxi industry played out Monday when drivers, taxi association representatives and tour operators met with park personnel in what Supt. John King hoped would be a "working group" to agree on negotiable aspects of the park plan to issue permits and charge annual fees for taxi tour operations starting Jan. 1.
"It was pretty unproductive," King said Tuesday.
He said the drivers rehashed many of the complaints made at an Oct. 25 meeting on the subject called by Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and at a Senate Committee of the Whole hearing held Nov. 5 on St. John. The complaints had to do not only with the current conflict but with other issues dating as far back as the park's opening in 1956.
At both of those meetings, many drivers said they would not pay any fees to take tour groups through the park. At Monday's meeting, King reiterated earlier comments that paying a fee was not a negotiable issue; however, he said he could lower the fees. He said the park has offered to drop the fee for independent drivers to $75 a year from $300, and for tour operators and taxi associations to $250 a year from $750. A taxi association fee would cover all association members.
According to King, the dozen taxi drivers and tour operators at the meeting nixed that proposal, instead offering to pay $1 a year for independent drivers and $5 for tour operators. "That's just insulting," King said. "We've made our best and final offer."
He said the park needs to recoup the cost of administering the permitting program, which is similar to those in place at the other 384 national parks. The permits and fees are required only of individuals and entities conducting tours. Drivers who strictly transport passengers from point A to point B are not included.
Currently, tour operators of such activities as daysails, kayak tours and hiking excursion pay V.I. National Park fees. Smaller businesses pay $300 a year and larger ones, $750 a year.
Taxi driver Randy Thomas, who attended Monday's "working group" meeting, said that taxi drivers do not yet have a counter-offer, but plan to present one.
They are running out of time. King has given them until next Monday to come up with a reasonable proposal.
At Monday's meeting, King said, drivers brought up the issue of who owns the roads through the park. While the National Park Service contends that it does, Liburd, Delegate Donna Christian Christensen and the drivers say that the roads are V.I. government property. King and Liburd both have said that the roads issue will probably be decided in court.
However, King also noted that many mainland national parks have state and county roads running through them, and that tour operators in those locations pay fees to use the park.
Christensen, who attended the working group meeting, said she sees the argument between park officials and the taxi industry as a symptom of a bigger problem. "Those people don't have a sense of being stakeholders in the park," she said of the drivers. She said that most "grassroots" St. John residents don't hold concession permits for the other activities allowed in the park, either.
While park officials accept applications from anyone seeking to provide commercial services within the park, Christensen said, they need to put effort into recruiting residents who may not have the skills needed to set up such businesses. She suggested that the U.S. Small Business Administration and V.I. Small Business Development Agency could help with that kind of outreach.
Christensen said the standoff between park officials and the taxi industry also reflects the fact that the park occupies much of St. John. Additionally, she said, the drivers are miffed because they are being told to pay a fee not assessed their counterparts on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Park officials held many public meetings over the course of a year and a half to obtain public input to help shape the new Commercial Services Plan, adopted last summer, that establishes the annual fee. The taxi drivers have complained that they were unaware the fees and permits were in the pipeline. As the Jan. 1 deadline for implementing the plan loomed, their objections began to surface.