By Rogan Smith
The holiday season is upon us. You know that means. Here come the union threats.
For years, major unions have used the holidays as an opportunity to not only hold the Bahamian people hostage, but to make its demands while putting the proverbial loaded gun to the government’s head.
Sometimes, those demands are reasonable – people are owed money, have patiently waited for years, and are fed-up with being given the run around. So, they act out. Other times, those demands are simply ridiculous.
The Bahamas Taxi Cab Union has graciously given us a wonderful example. That union is threatening to withdraw services during the busy holiday season if Transport Minister, Renward Wells doesn’t meet with its executives to reveal the government’s plans for dealing with the sector as it relates to taxi plates.
The union is also angry that the minister has highlighted the illegality of subleasing these license plates. They fear this will cause the plate owners to take them back from the drivers out of fear that they will be punished by the government and, thus lead to unemployment in the sector.
For those of you who are unaware, The Bahamas’ taxi industry is one where, for decades, individuals engaged in a practice of securing taxi plates from the government only to turn around and sublease it to other individuals for hundreds of dollars a month. Many of the plate owners never had intentions of driving a taxi.
Things got so bad, that there was a two-decade moratorium on the issuance of taxi plates. In 2017, Cabinet requested an audit of the taxi plates issued and their activity status.
Now, that you understand the background. It’s important that I point out the climate in which the union’s threats are being made. The Bahamas just suffered the deadliest and most catastrophic hurricane ever on record, courtesy of Hurricane Dorian. The Inter-American Bank (IDB) estimates that the total cost of that storm’s impact will be $3.4 billion.
Two of our island economies – Grand Bahama and Abaco – have been severely impacted. The government has ramped up its marketing to advise the world that The Bahamas is an archipelagic nation and many of its islands are still open for business. They want, and more importantly, need tourists to continue coming here.
This week, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar, responding to a recent tourism survey, expressed concerns about a decline in tourism in the first quarter of 2020. He said the projected decrease in foreign arrivals was reason enough to hold off on industrial action until the industry stabilizes.
“We’re in a very tender spot, so we have to ensure that we don’t do anything that would allow these negative numbers to persist,” he said.
He’s right. Given that many workers in the tourism industry are just now coming off of the slow period, one would think that they would want to make as much money, given the findings of this recent survey and what they have known and felt all along.
This is the time to be making money, not threatening to withdraw services that would disadvantage our nation’s visitors.
Anger Over Enforcement
If we’re being honest, a lot of the taxi cab’s anger stems from the government’s decision to finally enforce the law.
One taxi driver, Dwayne Darling told the local media that when the minister previously announced plans to enforce the law in May, the owner of the license plate he was leasing took it from him.
“The people got panicky and antsy and took it back,” he said.
Just so we’re clear, taxi drivers got away with subleasing those plates because, as usual, successive governments have refused to enforce the law.
The owners of those plates knew that it was illegal. The drivers who benefited from those plates knew it, too and willfully broke the law for years.
They should thank their lucky stars that they had so many more months to actually make money. What they should have been doing, is looking for other ways to ensure their money would continue uninterrupted following enforcement.
Now, they want the government to not enforce the law and make no mention of the fact that it will enforce the law because they’re afraid a few taxi plate owners will get “antsy”?
I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. Just because an individual has been getting away with breaking the law for years does not make it legal. This is precisely why I, and so many others, have stressed the importance of the government getting a handle on these situations before they escalate.
Modern Day Slavery
The taxi cab structure as it exists today is no more than a form of modern day slavery.
Businesspersons who own these coveted plates, have zero intentions of driving the cabs. Instead, they sublease them to taxi cab drivers who not only incur the costs of the vehicle itself, the insurance, maintenance costs, fuel costs, etc., but still have to turn around and pay the owner a rental fee for using the taxi plates.
I have spoken to countless taxi cab drivers who report that after working extremely long hours each day, they go home with very little and sometimes nothing after paying off the costs associated with operating their taxis.
Some of those drivers have been in the business for years without owning their own license plates. This is a huge problem that the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union needs to address.
Time To Modernize The Industry
The government needs to smarten up. We cannot have our nation and visitors being disadvantaged every time the union takes industrial action.
The taxi cab union can threaten as it pleases, but at what point is the government going to do what it takes to mitigate the fallout of such actions?
Perhaps the time has come for the government to welcome Uber, Lyft and other car-sharing services into the country so that people can have options.
I, for one, would love to see alternative modes of transportation in New Providence, particularly the tourist areas, like trolleys, electronic rickshaws or even the more traditional ones.
The busing system also needs to be modernized so that it services more areas later into the night.
Perhaps some enterprising group of Bahamians can put their heads and dollars together and make this happen.
Something’s got to give.