A day after the Legislature overrode his veto and reinstated the V.I. Taxicab Commission’s budget, Gov. Kenneth Mapp is sending down a bill to fund it from the General Fund, instead of through fines and fees.
“For too long the Taxi Cab Commission has operated on the backs of hardworking and struggling taxi and tour operators by taking advantage of them by assessing heavy fines, levies and fees," Mapp said in a statement about the proposed bill. His comment echoed those he gave when he vetoed the measure. (See: Mapp Signs Taxi Speculation Law, Vetoes Taxi Regulator’s Budget in Related Links below)
"Taxi drivers and tour operators have been assessed penalties as high as $1,000 for first offense infractions that a non-taxi driver would be assessed a fine in traffic courts for $75. We cannot statutorily mandate that an agency regulate an industry and then that agency target the citizens it is regulating to collect sufficient revenues to pay the salaries and expenses of the regulators,” Mapp said in his letter to Senate President Neville James.
For comparison, the V.I. Public Services Commission is statutorily mandated to regulate V.I. phone companies, cable television, ferries, and water and electric utilities. It charges these utilities millions of dollars every year – charges that are passed on to V.I. residents through their bills and which go to pay outside consultants to investigate the utilities on behalf of the PSC.
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles also provides much of its funding from internal sources, from fees and so forth related to its regulation of motor vehicles on V.I. roads.
Fees for permits help finance the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to help it regulate building construction and an array of professional trades.
Mapp’s bill also requires every taxi driver and tour operator to take 12 hours of certified continuing education courses for license renewal.
According to Government House, the Department of Tourism will collaborate with the University of the Virgin Islands to provide training opportunities throughout the year to ensure that each driver can meet the minimum of 12 hours education annually to maintain their transportation for hire license.
Reducing regulation on taxis is popular among V.I. elected officials. Earlier in October, Mapp signed into law a bill allowing all those allowed to bid on taxi medallions to immediately turn around and see how much they can make by leasing them to people who actually want to drive taxis.
The bill was touted as a benefit for veterans, but only veterans have been allowed to bid on medallions for the past decade. Previously the law required a three-year waiting period before leasing out medallions for profit.
The Senate disbanded the Taxicab Commission in 2000 over missing medallions, missing money and "illegal transactions," and chronic problems getting a quorum together to take actions. But then taxi drivers complained the Division of Licensing and Consumer Affairs was over-regulating them, so in 2006 and 2007 the Legislature acted on bills to reestablish the commission and take regulatory authority away from DLCA.
In 2012, the Legislature enacted two laws loosening regulations, allowing licensed V.I. taxi drivers to lend their taxis to anyone with a valid V.I. driver’s license and also use taxis as private vehicles, with non-medallion owners carrying friends and family in taxis, so long as they are "off duty." (See Related Links below)
Although tourism is important to the local economy, and many less-wealthy and elderly residents do not have cars, the status of taxi service in the territory is such that there is no central number to call for a taxi and no reliable taxi service after dusk anywhere in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Unlicensed, unregulated "gypsy" cabs are a large portion of all taxi service on St. Thomas, but are less active on St. Croix.