Jan. 7, 2004 – Knowledgeable drivers operating comfortable vehicles, ready to serve tourists and locals alike, make change and take passengers to any destination: That was the vision laid out by the commissioner of Licensing and Consumer Affairs on Wednesday for the territory's taxi industry.
Speaking at the Rotary Club of St. Thomas II weekly luncheon, Commissioner Andrew Rutnik told club members and guests of his desire for better taxi service territorywide.
Rutnik said he raised the issue in light of recent clashes between his department and taxi groups that bombarded his office with angry objections to new inspection fees and new rules governing the operation of taxis which were to have taken effect on Jan 1. (See "DLCA taxi inspection fee hike on hold for now".)
"We have to make sure we are taking care of our residents and our tourists in a fair and understandable manner," he said. "We are bringing in new people to these islands to run these taxis on a daily basis. They are not familiar with where Frenchtown is … I've gotten complaints where people have given them money and they weren't able to make change …
"I'm not saying this is the majority. This is the minority. But we've got to realize we're not static. Things change and we must change with them."
The need for training in order to bring about a friendlier and more efficient taxi fleet is a subject that frequently arises in discussions between Licensing and the Tourism Department, Rutnik said. Who conducts it doesn't matter, he said, but he would like to see drivers receive some sort of training every time they renew their licenses.
"I don't think that that is asking too much, and I'd like to make it mandatory," he said.
The commissioner also told the Rotary group that the territory's taxi associations need to do a better job of policing their own members, especially in terms of keeping cars and vans in good condition.
Defending his proposal — now on hold — to increase the fee for biannual vehicle inspections for the first time in 15 years, to $50 from $15, Rutnik said Licensing and Consumer Affairs needs the increased revenue for regulation, enforcement and support services. It's something taxi drivers recognize the need for, he said.
While the Motor Vehicle Bureau inspects taxis for compliance with safety regulations, DLCA checks them out for such things as the condition of seats and whether the windows roll up, Rutnik was quoted as saying in December.
In addition, he said on Wednesday, "the taxi industry is calling out for taxi inspectors, people who go out on the streets to make sure taxi stands are not being invaded by outsiders."
He said he recently read of a case in Red Hook on St. Thomas's East End where someone claiming to be a taxi driver "picked up some passengers and eventually robbed them."
He said he is in agreement that "we need to have more people on the street, 24 hours a day, protecting the taxi industry."
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