The V.I. Taxicab Commission voted on Thursday to allow Executive Director Levron Sarauw Sr. to begin addressing staffing issues that he said are making it difficult for the agency to enforce its regulations.
Sarauw said his enforcement staff is down to just one officer in each district, not including a chief on St. Thomas and a deputy chief on St. Croix. He said a total of four or five officers on St. Thomas, and three on St. Croix, are needed to do the job of enforcing regulations on the territory’s approximately 5,000 registered taxicabs.
Taxicab Commission enforcement officers are full peace officers with arrest powers.
Now that a budget for the semiautonomous VITC has been approved – the Legislature overrode Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s veto of the agency’s $539,544 budget on Oct. 20 – the board unanimously granted Sarauw the authority to advertise two job vacancies for enforcement officers on St. Thomas.
No additional positions on St. Croix are budgeted, but Sarauw said that may change in the near future.
Mapp has proposed giving VITC an additional $550,000 out of the General Fund so that it can ease the penalties and fees that are currently the agency’s only source of funding.
“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.
He added in a letter to Senate President Neville James: "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.”
Sarauw said that the governor is incorrect in his figures, but he agreed that some fines and fees issued by the VITC are too high and that it has always been his opinion that the agency should receive money from the General Fund.
The Taxicab Commission’s $300 late lease charge, he said, is excessive and the result of the agency’s need to raise its own operating funds.
“The impression that we fine people $1,000 on the first offense is erroneous,” said Sarauw.
VITC commissioner Horace Graham Jr. stressed that violations will still be issued to drivers in noncompliance if alternate sources of funding do become available to the agency.
“We are not trying to say that the fees and the fines are wrong,” Graham said. “But we have a funding structure where we have fees for various forms and so on that can be a little onerous. If we could get that shifted, and have a little bit come off of the General Fund, that can be eased.”
Besides hiring more staff, Sarauw said, other priorities for VITC include planning educational seminars for taxicab drivers and updating the agency’s computer system.
“Everybody’s computer is just limping along,” he said.
Also present at the meeting were VITC Chairman Sweeney Toussaint and commissioners Cedric Armstrong, Lawrence Ramdhansingh and Angie Smith.