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Taxicab Drivers Voice Concerns at Town Hall

L-R: Taxicab operators Paul “Respect” Roberts, Edward Stevens, and Samuel “Mighty Pat” Ferdinand testified in front of the Senate Friday. (Source photo by Diana Dias)
Taxicab operators Paul “Respect” Roberts, from left, Edward Stevens and Samuel “Mighty Pat” Ferdinand testified in front of the Senate Friday. (Source photo by Diana Dias)

Taxicab drivers had the opportunity to voice their concerns at a not-so-well-attended town hall meeting Friday at the Fritz E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room on St. Croix. This was the final meeting in a series of town hall meetings that have taken place on all three islands. The town hall was an opportunity for taxicab operators on St. Croix to share their concerns and recommendations for the industry operations.

Committee on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs, and Consumer Protection Chairman Sen. Carla Joseph held the meetings to hear the concerns of the drivers. Joseph pointed out that the participation was far less compared to St. Thomas, where there was a packed room.

Providing their statements on record were taxi drivers Samuel “Mighty Pat” Ferdinand, Edward Stevens and Paul “Respect” Roberts. Also attending the town hall was executive director of the taxi commission Vernice Gumbs.

Ferdinand, who has been a taxi driver for the past 33 years, said, “There is a lot of disturbances especially with these people who call themselves, ‘Uber,’” he said, referring to other forms of transportation that have been showing up at taxi stands, at the airport and at pick-up stations at the cruise ship site in Frederiksted.

“It has gotten so bad that now the people at the hotels are getting their friends to pick people up and calling them taxis,” said Ferdinand.

“We do have a shortage of taxis here on St. Croix and this is due to the coronavirus which wiped out a lot of our drivers. Also, a lot of drivers retired and the government not issuing the taxi examination also put a damper on our taxis around here. This is why it is taking so long for those passengers that we call ‘roadrunners’ to get to and from work,” said Stevens.

“We need the help for you to stand and give us what we need. Stop talk about Uber, we don’t need no Uber. The tools we need right now are more drivers, more respect, more honor, more dignity because we are the first who anyone meets when they come to the island and the last. So, I believe the community needs to respect the drivers,” said Roberts.

In response to the taxi drivers, Gumbs who was taking notes, said that unauthorized drivers have been showing up to taxi stands because there are currently no enforcement officers. Gumbs said that she has on multiple occasions attempted to contact Police Commissioner Ray Martinez regarding the lack of enforcement officers, but despite her attempts to schedule meetings she has not been successful in receiving a response.

Gumbs also said that Sen. Marvin Blyden had said that he had a bill to add the limo industry under the Taxicab Commission and she says the bill has not gone anywhere.  “What is the hold up, I am not sure,” she said.

Regarding the lack of new drivers, Gumbs said that she had been working with the board and having meetings with the University of the Virgin Islands and UVI Center for Excellence in Leadership and Learning to resume taxi training classes. “One major delay is attributed to not having rules and regulations in place so that the people attending these classes are knowledgeable of the rules and regulations governing this industry.” According to Gumbs those rules and regulations have not been finalized due to unpaid legal fees amounting to $8,000.

Later in the meeting Joseph questioned Gumbs on the last time there has been an election for the taxi commission board. Gumbs said not since 2009. The board currently comprises  seven members, and six of those seats are expiring. Loretta Moore served as the chairwoman of the board and recently stepped down from that position in February and is now a member. In the interim Elizabeth Hansen Watley, who is the vice chair, is serving as the chairwoman.

“We are looking at a possible dysfunctional commission and this is why I have had these town hall meetings because I know the solution is here with the taxi operators. What you have said this evening has been said in St. Thomas and St. John,” said Joseph.

She continued, “Get your members and get the vital board populated with current members that have the heart of the taxi industry at the forefront.”

Also present at the town hall were Senators Diane T. Capehart, Kenneth L. Gittens, and Samuel Carrion, who is also a member of the committee.

To see the town hall in its entirety click here.

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