Senate Panel OKs Cab Credit Card Bill Over Driver Opposition

Bruce Flamon, an independent taxi driver, said he thinks mandating credit card payment availability on taxis as government over reach. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)
Bruce Flamon, an independent taxi driver, said he thinks mandating credit card payment availability on taxis as government over reach. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

Editor’s Note: See our series on problems with taxi service in the U.S. Virgin Islands here, here, here and here

Sen. Janelle Sarauw, chair of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, said she knew a bill requiring taxi drivers to implement an electronic monetary payment system would be contentious, but before the Friday hearing was over Sen. Myron Jackson was questioning whether the whole discussion was even necessary.

He pointed to two items on the V.I. Taxi Cab Commission website. One item said the commission had partnered with FirstBank V.I. to give drivers the ability to accept credit cards for payment by passengers. It said, “EverPay mPOS transforms your smartphone or tablet into a point of sale terminal, where you can process card payment transactions at any place, anytime.”

The second item referred to CARICAB. CARICAB, according to the website, is approved by the commission and gives drivers the ability to take credit card payments from passengers. Its description says “CARICAB turns your smartphone or tablet into a digital dispatch that will send you passengers’ locations, when they request a taxi cab ride. When the driver accepts the ride requests and picks up the passenger, the driver is paid automatically once they drop off the passenger at their destination.”

Advertising (skip)

The difference between what is on the website and what is in the bill proposed by Sen. Kurt Vialet, is the bill would make it mandatory for taxi cab drivers to accept credit cards.

And that was what the representatives of the taxi drivers said they were against.

Bruce Flamon, an independent taxi driver and a founder of a the Virgin Islands tour guide association, said the measure was “being jammed down taxi drivers throats.”

Nilsa Serrano, who has been a taxi driver for more than a dozen years, testified she was not against taxi drivers having the the ability to take credit card payments, she just did not like the way the Senate was making it mandatory.

Senators said, even though they understood the concerns of the taxi drivers, it was the Senate’s job to enhance the tourist product on the islands so all the residents could benefit.

Sen. Steven Payne said the first things he heard at the Sea Trade Global Cruise Conference he attended this year were complaints about St. Thomas being too crowded and its taxi drivers not taking credit cards.

Nilsa Serrano testifies that senators were not aware of all the complications that taxi drivers face. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)
Nilsa Serrano testifies that senators were not aware of all the complications that taxi drivers face. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

Serrano said taxis have to discharge passengers quickly at the airport and also downtown Charlotte Amalie and there is barely time to collect cash from passengers. Sometimes some will walk away without paying, she said.

If the bill is implemented, “We will have more confusion, more congestion and more traffic,” Serrano said.

Sen. Novelle Francis introduced the bill at the meeting Friday, standing in for Vialet who is not a member of the Committee. Francis said he recognized the argument the taxi drivers were making – that minimal time collecting from passengers was important. However, he added the Virgin Islands had “to step up its game.” He said cruise lines were moving their ships away from the Caribbean to Europe and “we are here arguing about credit cards.”

The taxi drivers and the senators also disagreed on the timing of the bill. Serrano said the senators “just threw the bill” at the taxi drivers without any discussion. She invited senators to come on a cruise ship day and watch the operations of the taxis and see the problems they encountered. Sarauw countered that the bill had been under discussion for decades.

Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas brought up the possible challenge taxi drivers could face if Uber came to the Virgin Islands.

Uber is a ride-sharing service that relies on smartphone technology to dispatch drivers and manage fees. Unlike taxi services, Uber drivers do not possess special licenses; rather, they use their personal vehicles to offer discounted-fare rides.

Thomas said that many locations had fought Uber, but Uber had prevailed in most cases.

Payne said the Senate would “stop Uber and all” from coming into the islands but added that maybe taxi drivers had become “complacent” since they had a “monopoly.”

Besides Uber there is Lyft. It is a similar system but along with offering car rides, it has a scooters and a bicycle-sharing system.

The bill was moved forward to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation. Sarauw, Francis and Jackson voted favorably for the bill. Sens. Payne and Javan James voted Nay. Sens Alicia Barnes and Kenneth Gittens were absent from the hearing.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

3 COMMENTS

  1. It would be interesting if this move by the senate is a signal that the stranglehold the taxi cabal has had on the senate, the government and the populace at large, is starting to loosen. It is long overdue for this self-interested group to start paying their fair share of taxes. They bear a lot of the blame the financial state of this government-lining their pockets with money that should have gone into the public coffers. There should be investigations into the financials of the senators who aided them in the past. We know who they are. And regarding the comments about how this measure was just thrust on them, or mandated instead of voluntary, that’s just ridiculous. No one will do anything they are not forced to do, especially if it causes dollars to flow from their pockets. That’s the reason for laws. Of course most of the taxis will ignore the mandate, claiming the technology is faulty or broken, and no one will enforce compliance. So, not going to get too excited for progress among this group of con men and women.

  2. Congratulations to the legislature for actually moving this forward. This a no brainer! Accept credit cards and stop living in the stone age of your taxi monopoly mafia!!
    I agree that most drivers will still not accept credit cards. However, this will be the catalyst to bring in Uber and Lyft. As we already should have!
    We need better services to compete in the 21 century and raise the standard of living. Period.

Support the VI Source

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall - we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. Our sites are more popular than ever, but advertising revenues are falling - so you can see why we could use your help. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. If everybody who appreciates our reporting efforts were to help fund it for as little as $1, our future would be much more secure. Thanks in advance for your support!