V.I. May Require Taxis Take Credit Cards

Taxi owner James Penn testifies against a bill that would require taxicab owners to accept payment by credit cards from customers during the Government Operations, Consumers and Affairs Committee’s Monday meeting. To his left is Averyl Fabian of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)
Taxi owner James Penn testifies against a bill that would require taxicab owners to accept payment by credit cards from customers during the Government Operations, Consumers and Affairs Committee’s Monday meeting. To his left is Averyl Fabian of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

Taxis in the V.I. would be required to offer an electronic payment option to customers after the Government Operations, Consumers and Affairs Committee voted Monday to move the bill forward to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.

The committee heard from seven testifiers advocating for the bill’s necessity, but the one taxicab owner present said he only recently heard the meeting was to be held at all. He did not agree with the panel nor the majority of senators who approved the motion but said he was willing to try to make something work.

“I don’t mind the electronic thing, but I don’t want any mandatory thing saying we have to do it,” said James Penn. He also noted that St. John is a small island and he doesn’t think the machines will work there.

“I’m not going to say that we aren’t going to do it, but we want to make sure that it’s done right,” Penn said. “We can work on it with you but don’t shove it down our throat or we are going to fight.”

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Other members of various taxi associations were invited to the meeting to discuss the bill but were unable to attend, leaving Penn to face the committee’s questions alone. Ultimately, he said, his conflict was being told how to operate his private business, forcing him to learn a new technology that he assimilated with other cultures outside his own.

But the V.I. Department of Tourism considers the act a “win, win.” Alani Todman of Tourism said tip amounts would go up because a suggested tip can be added at the end of a credit card payment. And safety concerns would be alleviated from tourists who wouldn’t have to carry large amounts of cash.

Lisa Hamilton, president of the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, said for a family of five to go to Coral World is a perfect example of what is wrong with not offering an electronic payment option.

“It can be $100 for a family of five, one way, to get to Coral World and back. And it’s a very good point they aren’t going to take it (the taxi) if they don’t have the cash on hand. Once you go into a family of four or five the cost of it becomes an issue,” Hamilton said.

While Penn acknowledged the cost to families, he also said to operate and maintain a taxi service was very costly. He said he knows who his regular customers are and takes care of them, likely offering a discount, whereas the tourists who are here for a short time were charged the going rate.

Horace Graham, chairman of the V.I. Taxicab Commission, said he had seen a renaissance in the territory’s taxi business, adding that because of the degree educational opportunities for the taxi associations and independent taxi drivers were shared, many individuals already have come on board with credit card processing.

Horace also explained the availability of a phone application that was offered to the V.I. for free to taxi merchants who could use the service to accept credit card payments and pass any associated fees for use of the application on to the consumer.

But when Sen. Kurt Vialet asked Horace how many of the 3,000 taxi driving members told of this application had accepted the service, Horace replied only three individuals had.

“Today we look at a measure that has been met with resistance,” Vialet said.

Editor’s note: Poor service, a lack of a central number to call for a taxi and the near total absence of taxis at night are highly damaging to the territory’s tourism economy. See the V.I. Source’s detailed analysis of these issues here, here, here and here. Look to the Source for more on this crisis soon. 

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14 COMMENTS

  1. What?! $200 return trip taxi ride for a family of five to go to Coral World! We need Uber or Lyft or some home-grown alternative. And credit cards are a “new technology…assimilated with other cultures outside his own”? What a backwards racist attitude. Stop hiding behind the old thieving way of doing things. Taxi drivers obviously have the money to adopt technology (it’s even free to them), and they need to start paying their fair share of taxes. How can anyone be sympathetic to this bunch of self-serving crooks?!

  2. You can’t have Uber or Lyft without drivers willing to drive at rates set by the ride sharing app provider. I usually pay $10 to get home, but there are some gypsy taxis who want to charge me $15. They won’t budge for $10.

    There are other cash only businesses. If taxis are forced to have credit card option, all others should be forced to do the same. Make the credit card application part of license requirement (adding yet another step to getting a license, sigh).

    There are a few taxi drivers that accept online tour bookings, and many of them take credit card payments online for the deposit or full tour payment. Are they reporting that income?

  3. Our taxi mafia needs to be abolished!
    They don’t want anything to change. Because that will be the cracks in the foundation of their cash cow empire. Per person charging has created fortunes for many of them. I see the the monster houses some of them own! We will suffocate our tourism business for the benefit of a select few if nothing changes. Cash only is a horrible business practice that only means to lower reportable taxable income. It increases theft and crime. ALLOW UBER AND LYFT!

  4. Imagine that they had the gall to admit to Senators that some taxi drivers are evading paying taxes. How could they stand strong with that admission. If they are smart enough to evade taxes they are smart enough to use the so call new technologies. Additionally, each driver should be given a large sticker to put on their dashboard that says “we take credit and debit cards.” Now we know those slicksters are going to tell their customers the machine isn’t working in order to get the free cash so the sticker should also have a number for reporting . I don’t think they should be reporting to the taxis commission because we know they will do nothing. Maybe licensing or IRB? They also need to have some undercover personals checking to see if they are accepting credit cards. Tourism need to advertise that all taxis take credit cards and to report any request for cash only. This has been a long time coming. Now instead of them laughing to the banks they crying to the Internal Revenue Bureau…..like the rest of us. Next.

  5. Just was talking to a retired taxis driver, he said some taxis work during the day then loan (rent) their taxis to 0ther persons to work during the night for a fee. Imagine a 24 hour business that pays hardly any taxes. Cash only. No wonder they are bawling how unfair it is? Everything is for a time and their time is up!

  6. Hah, of course they don’t want the change. Actually have to be held accountable for their revenues?? This industry needs to change, majority of these taxi drivers are rude and annoyed majority of the time and making a killing in what they charge per person to get around the island. It’s something like $50 round trip for a family of 5 to go from the Westin into town for dinner – less then a 10 minute ride each way. It’s ridiculous. And yes, the credit machines will work on St. John, we use an application for our boat charter business – it is very easy. Bring on Uber or Lyft and create some healthy competition with actually friendly drivers.

  7. Perhaps an online petition needs to be started so we can gather thousands of signatures to deliver to our senators. Need to overpower the corrupt and uncompromising taxi commission and taxi drivers that have had a strangle hold on our elected officials for far too long!

  8. Technology sounds great until you get it out into the field. Large swaths of St. John have no Internet or cell service. There is obviously some greedy processor ready to ding every transaction at 5%+ Uber? Give me a break. No street names; harsh driving environment; It costs what it costs for a reason. Have fun paying a Lyft driver $150 to get to Coral bay from Cruz bay after dark!

  9. Hey , poor internet service is a good excuse maybe the taxi commission can use it the next time they come in front of the senate. Or maybe they can add the excuse of the 5 percent for the use of credit cards. Hmmmm. No street names? Another good excuse. And the “piece of resistance;” excuse, harsh driving conditions! Really?!! You can run the card at the time of service without internet and it will be processed later when you have connectivity. 5% is part of the cost of doing business. No street names? Try GPS. I see tourist using GPS and frankly they don’t care about street signs. And finally harsh driving conditions! I drive all around this island I don’t think it is harsh. I think it needs work but harsh is not the word I would use. Most tourists find it to be challenging, memorable, and sometimes funny. But harsh is not the words they would use.

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