Taxi drivers split on forward movement for industry

Taxi drivers split on forward movement for industry
Taxi drivers waiting at the Melia queue for their numbers to be called to service customers.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – As Bahamian taxi drivers grapple with concerns of oversaturation in the market, several others continue to call on the government to lift the two-decade old moratorium on taxi plates.

One of them is Leona ‘Big Mama’ Rahming, who says she has driven with nearly all of the tour countries in New Providence but has never been able to secure her own taxi plate.

She told Eyewitness News Online she has been driving with a rented plate for her entire career – some 40 years.

“Those persons who have been out here for all those long times, and who still out here hustling for other people, consider them, give them a plate,” Rahming said.

“…Every comptroller that has been there tell me to buy a car. I buy a car, where’s the plate. I don’t have a plate.”

Rahming claims there are several people who have multiple plates, who rent them out to drivers for at least $420 per week for small cars and more for bigger vehicles.

She said the system has not been fair to her or other drivers over the years.

“What they are doing to us as older drivers, I don’t care how old we are, we have our health and strength, we have our bills to pay to, have some consideration,” she added.

Rahming and others also claimed that they have been told by officials to turn in the taxi plates that they are currently renting from others in order to get a new plate issued to them.

However, those drivers are insisting that they cannot take the risk of having no source of income while they wait for a new plate.

According to officials, there are 1,135 taxi plates, 200 delivery plates and 300 bus plates.

Minister of Transport and Local Government Renward Wells addressed the matter outside Cabinet yesterday, telling reporters, that the practice is against the law and the government is moving to ensure it is enforced.

“The issue is before the Cabinet of The Bahamas currently”, Wells said.

“I think that the Bahamian public is going to see something from us very, very soon.

“It is against the law for any individual to lease any sort of government issued plates. You are not supposed to. You are supposed to be the individual who either owns the plate, or you have yourself a company, so you’re not supposed to be subleasing.”

Wells said the matter of lifting the moratorium is also presently before the Cabinet.

He added, “The government will be looking at this whole transportation industry with a view as to how we can enhance the efficiency, the look and the quality of the product on the transportation business that are being offered to our tourists and Bahamian alike.”

Tyrone Saunders, who has only been driving for nine months, said when he started in the business less than a year ago, he was renting a car and a plate.

He said he was renting both (as a package) for $420 a week and had to pay that fee even if he did not work seven days.

Saunders equated the exchange as “modern-day slavery”, noting that the over $1,600 cost to rent the two is “ridiculous” given that the owners of the plates only pay the government about $200 a year to lease them.

“To be able to pay that much amount of money, plus provide my own gas for the vehicle, was nearly impossible,” he continued.

“…I think that people who are driving taxis should have access to taxi plates. I should be paying $200 a year instead of $1,600 a month.”

Tyrone Saunders, 65, has been a taxi driver for nearly nine months.

Saunders said he has raised the matter with several government officials, who are aware of his concerns.

“I know people who have been applying for a taxi driver case for more than 30 years,” he added.

“A lot of taxi drivers are unable to make ends meet or they won’t be able to drive because if you just so happen not to be in the favor of persons who have these plates, you’re out of business. You and your family, shut down. It’s very unfair.”

Yamacraw MP Elsworth Johnson, who expressed concerns coming from some of his constituents, told Eyewitness News Online on Sunday that the issue creates a level of inequality that has to be addressed.

“First, I want to commend the past and present minister of transport, who I think have been doing a phenomenal job, but the current situation with the leasing of the taxi plates whereby persons have to pay individuals to lease a government commodity cannot be ignored, just like land reform,” Johnson said.

“Some have described the current situation of taxi drivers having to lease a taxi plate for much more than the person who is leasing it from the government is paying – a current form of slavery.”

Johnson pointed to the Minnis administration’s Speech from the Throne, which pledged to “review and give consideration to the ownership of taxi license plates by person who have bene leasing those plates for many years,” and commended the prime minister for showing the ”

“I want to commend Dr. Minnis for showing the intestinal fortitude to address the issue as he is doing now with land reform,” he continued.

“Without crossing boundaries and knowing if minister Wells has a plan for the situation, I have constituents who have brought this matter to me and when I listen to their stories and the bondage that has created by something that crosses political boundaries; you’d be shock and amazed to know the person who have plates and how many they have and how many they are leasing.

“I think it creates a level of inequality that has to be addressed.”

However, some long-time drivers have said more taxi plates are not necessary and will only hurt those other drivers currently struggling to make ends meet.

“We don’t need no new taxi plates on the road,” said Sam Farrington, a driver of 36 years.

“We have too much taxi plates on the road now. And right now whoever used to make $80, making $40 a day.

“This new breed that driving taxi now, man it’s a fight and row everyday for a job because it’s to much drivers on the road.”

Farrington claimed that the prevalence of charters, tour busses and SD vehicles acting as “gypsy taxis” has taken away business from the taxi.

“It’s no money making now,” he continued

“One time ago the season used to be the first eight months of the year, but right now you fighting from May straight down to now.”

But Patrice Callender, who agreed that there are too many taxis, said that more drivers need to use creative and innovative ways to increase their business.

“You have to get aggressive and help yourself,” said Callender, who has been a driver for some 27 years.

“You know it’s competition…Every man has to get wise. You have to try build your base. You have to go and get your website. Bahamians are too lazy. In America you have 10 of the same shop, you just do yours different and fight.”

She noted that when business got really bad this year, especially with the impacts of Hurricane Dorian, she decided to branch out and cater to blind people needing to get from place to place.

“You have to get innovative,” she added.

“You can’t just sit on the [queue] because you are going to end of fighting with one another. You have to put your cards our and build yourself up.

“…I won’t come here and blame the government if I don’t eat bread. I’ve been in this too long. I educated my daughter spending over $130,000 from this same taxi work. But you can’t be lazy, you have to hustle. Everything ain’t ga go perfect. “

While Kerry Thompson has only been in the business for about 14-months, she suggested that the best solution to the issue may be for the government to recall all the leased plates and reissue them.

Thompson, a widowed mother of seven, said she often has to work 18-hour shifts, just to get a decent wage.

She noted that she has to ensure that she makes enough money to cover the cost to rent the car and taxi plate weekly, and then also have enough to take care her family.

“It’s sad that persons who have good jobs, who are retired, who have money coming and still round here running people down for this money,” Thompson said.

“And these persons are not in the industry. We have to go out there…We are the first persons tourists see and the last ones. We have to hustle out here all day, all night but they are benefiting from our sweat.”

Natasha Neely, 33, added that the industry must be regulated, from the enforcement of certain laws and pricing, to a plan for the future of taxi drivers.

Neely, a mother of three, has been a driver for two years.

In May, Wells told a group of taxi drivers who assembled outside Cabinet to give the government “an opportunity to bring the requisite solution”.

At the time, Wells said that he expected to begin addressing their issues on July 1.

He also noted that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis had formed a team of six Cabinet ministers, inclusive of Wells, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar, Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes and Attorney General Carl Bethel, to address the issues.