Oct. 5 , 2005 — By some estimates, the taxi business is a $10 million a year industry on St. Thomas alone. But soaring gas prices have put taxi drivers territory-wide in a financial bind. Now some of that cost will be passed onto the consumer.
As of Oct. 1, the Taxi Division at the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs has implemented a new Vehicle for Hire Tariff for the territory. The new tariff raises the price of a ride about 20 percent. According to Andrew Rutnik, commissioner of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, now that $9 trip to the airport will cost $11 per person.
According to Virgin Islands law, this rate increase is long overdue. The tariff is supposed to be reviewed and adjusted accordingly every two years — the last time it was done was in 2000. "It's been almost 6 years," said Rutnik. "We had reasonable gas prices; they (drivers) had a lot of business, especially on St. Thomas. It wasn't an issue."
But drivers have become more aggravated in the past year as gas prices have steadily gone up. Eighty percent of their overhead is fuel. According to Rutnik, most St. Thomas and St. Croix taxis use premium fuel, which is now running anywhere from $3.10 to $3.20 a gallon.
The new tariff replaces the $1 fuel surcharge that was put in place in April to give the taxi drivers some relief. "We have worked with the taxi drivers to develop a new tariff," said Rutnik. "The $1 surcharge amounted to about the same as the tariff."
The new guidelines also clarify the issue of luggage. The old tariff was $1 per bag, but anything over a "certain, undefined size was negotiable with driver," said Rutnik. "That led to disputes with consumers who found the luggage cost more than the fare."
Now it's $2 for bags up to 24 inches by 30 inches, and carry-ons are free. Anything larger than that will be a maximum of $4. However, things like surfboards or large packages that take up seats remain in a gray area, to be negotiated by the driver.
Rutnik said in the past, some hotels have complained that the taxis were too expensive –in some cases costing groups $60 to $70 to get back and forth from the Ritz to Red Hook.
Keeping that in mind, a clause has been added to the new tariff that says taxi concessions at hotels can apply for special rates for groups or children, or offer discounts for certain destinations. Those rates will be applied for on a case by case basis.
All drivers must carry the tariff in their taxi, so it can be displayed to customers. If it's not available, drivers will face fines of up to $100. Violations to the new set prices will also be subject to fines of up to $500. Tariffs, which are color coded per island, can be purchased for $5 per copy from the DLCA offices on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John.
Rutnik encourages residents and visitors to make sure they know the price before agreeing to the service, and to report any disputes or violations to the Division of Taxi, which can be reached on St. Thomas and St. John at (340)774-3130, and on St. Croix at (340)773-2226.
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