A St. John taxi driver questions VIPA Executive Carlton Dowe at last week’s meeting about new regulations at the Cruz Bay taxi stand.
Although V.I. Port Authority officials did not ask to run taxi operations at the Cruz Bay waterfront, the authority was recently ordered to do so after a court ruled to evict the St. John Taxi Association from the area, according to VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe.
Dowe laid out new rules for St. John taxi operators at an emergency meeting in the conference room of the St. John Legislature Building on Friday evening, November 29, which drew about 100 taxi drivers and residents.
St. John Administrator Leona Smith, St. Thomas/St. John Senator Myron Jackson, V.I. Police Department St. Thomas/St. John Chief Foy, VIPA staff and V.I. Taxi Commission officials also attended the meeting.
“We are not here because VIPA wanted something else to do,” said Dowe. “Whether we like it or not, we have to work with this. This came directly from the court which decided that the St. John Taxi Association can no longer continue what is happening at the dock.”
“What ever transpired there before, as of Sunday, that will no longer be the case,” he said.
The St. John Taxi Association was evicted from the Cruz Bay dock as of Sunday, December 1.
Governor John deJongh informed VIPA officials last week that the property would be transferred to the authority from Department of Property and Procurement to run taxi operations, Dowe explained.
VIPA and St. John taxi medallion owners must all work together now, Dowe added.
“We must all understand that we have one thing in common now, to make sure residents and visitors alike have an experience at the dock that makes them want to continue to come here and do business here,” said the VIPA Executive Director. “You must understand how your bread is buttered.”
Starting Sunday, December 1, all 162 St. John taxi medallion owners legally operating on the island will have the opportunity to operate from the Cruz Bay waterfront, explained Dowe, who laid out VIPA’s plan to have 40 taxis per day operating from the area.
VIPA’s initial plan was to call 20 taxis to work the waterfront each day, a number which was far too low, according to many taxi drivers at the meeting.
“Not all taxi medallions are in operation,” said one taxi driver. “Some of the medallions work out of the Westin, some work out of Caneel Bay. If you want to start somewhere you should just cut it in half and have half the drivers one day and the other half the next day.”
While Dowe wouldn’t go so far as to have more than 80 taxi medallions on call for a single day, he agreed to increase the proposed number from 20 to 40. Operations at the Cruz Bay waterfront dock will begin at 6 a.m. when the first driver in that day’s medallions on call will sign in and be first to load.
About 20 taxis will be on call at the dock with an additional 20 taxis staged in an area near the Enighed Pond Marine Facility, Dowe explained.
The two areas will be in contact via telephone and two-way radio. Double parking will no longer be allowed along the waterfront.
Each taxi driver will pay $10 per day to operate from the Cruz Bay waterfront. Villa management companies and hotel taxis will be expected to pay the $10 daily fee as well, Dowe explained.
“That $10 allows you to come that day as much as you can or as much as you want,” said the VIPA Executive Director. “Villas and hotels will pay that $10 too to operate from our property every day.”
The fees collected will be used to pay staff, including a dispatcher which will operate in the area, and allow VIPA to build a boardwalk along the waterfront, according to Dowe.
“We are in the business of making money,” said Dowe. “We are not going to run our operation at a deficit. We have to make sure that the property is properly insured and we have to have employees and we want to build a boardwalk for people to safely traverse and line up for taxis.”
“There ain’t no free ride,” he said. “There ain’t no free lunch. Everyone has to participate.”
VIPA officials should have met with taxi drivers before creating a plan, according to several drivers at last week’s meeting.
“You are doing this backwards,” said one St. John taxi driver. “Why didn’t you meet with us before you tried to put something together? Why put something together that isn’t going to work?”
“Why didn’t you get input first,” asked the driver.
Dowe pointed to the short time frame VIPA had to create a plan for the reason he was not able to meet with taxi drivers ahead of last Friday’s meeting.
“We appreciate your concern but we didn’t have a month or six months to come up with this,” said the VIPA Executive Director. “We are talking now and listening to you. Based on your feedback we will make adjustments.”
VIPA is in the undesirable position of creating some semblance of order at the Cruz Bay waterfront in short order, Dowe explained.
“Overnight we are trying to bring some semblance of order to something that could have been chaotic,” he said. “Keep in mind that as of December 1 there is no organization to operate from Cruz Bay. We are creating a new system here.”
VIPA officials will be flexible and will adjust the system if needed, Dowe added.
“What we are saying here tonight is not written in stone,” he said. “We just got this order last week and come Sunday we have to have some sort of structure. We are hearing already that having 20 taxis down there might be problematic so I’m willing to make it 40.”
Taxi drivers must understand that VIPA is trying to create a system that works for everyone, Dowe explained.
“We are in the business of making money and we could put this out to bid tomorrow,” he said. “Let me make this abundantly clear, the taxi industry is one of the few remaining industries that is still run by local people. Help us make this work.”
“Believe me, the last thing you want us to do is put this out to public bid,” said Dowe. “I’ve already gotten phone calls. Listen to me, be careful what you wish for.”
Taxi operators will be expected to follow all VIPA rules and regulations, which officials handed out at last week’s meeting. Anyone who does not follow the regulations, including proper dress, will be kicked off the property, Dowe explained.
“You do not have a right or authorization to be on our property,” he said. “It is a privilege to operate on VIPA property. Anyone who does not follow the rules will not be allowed to operate from our property.”
VIPA officials recently removed a taxi driver from Cyril E. King Airport operations for three weeks for violating VIPA regulations, Dowe added.
“We don’t want to do that,” he said. “But we’re not afraid. If we have to, we will.”
It is in everyone’s benefit to work together to ensure that taxi operations at the Cruz Bay waterfront run smoothly, according to Dowe.
“If we work cooperatively and fairly and respect each other this will work,” said the VIPA Executive Director.
VIPA cannot fix all the taxi issues on St. John, but officials will ensure that operations at the Cruz Bay waterfront run smoothly, Dowe explained.
“Sometimes you have to save people from themselves and no place in the territory have I seen that more than on St. John,” he said.