Taxi drivers angry

Taxi drivers at the passenger terminal are angry over the problem of illegitimate operators cutting into their business.

Every morning about 6.30 or 7, those drivers registered to pick up passengers from the cruise ships gather to pull numbers offered by the Port Authority Taxi Dispatcher, which determines their place in the queue. When a taxi is needed, the dispatcher calls the next driver on his list to pick up the fare. Problems arise when taxis not registered to work the passenger terminal area pull up to tout for fares, often at cut-rate prices.

Danny Connolly is a legitimate driver getting squeezed out of business by these taxi rogues. Mr. Connolly, who has been driving for 16 years, is frustrated by the situation.

‘We get here around six or seven every morning to give our name and take a number. Then, an illegitimate driver will come by at nine or 10 and grab the passengers,’ he said.

Despite the system to regulate pick-ups, control seems to be a problem. Port Authority Taxi Dispatcher Garfield Ebanks, who has been working out of the Kirk’s Freeport parking lot since Hurricane Ivan damaged the Printer’s Way location, handles the daily lottery. The drivers pull numbers from a box to determine their place in the queue, but what happens at the passenger terminal is out of his hands.

‘Those taxi drivers not registered to work the passenger terminal are taking business away from legitimate drivers,’ he explained. Pointing from his post over to the terminal, Mr. Ebanks voiced the drivers’ concerns. ‘They (the non-registered drivers) are in the street there and we can’t do anything. It is under police control what happens in the street,’ he said.

Mr. Joseph Wood, Manager Marine and Cargo & Port Facility Security Officer, offered the Port Authority’s perspective on the situation. ‘There were quite a few vehicles damaged after the hurricane, so the Port Authority made the decision to allow all taxis to handle the cruise business. Prior to that, those who did not comply with the system were dealt with by the police.’

Due to the reduced capacity, a directive was given not to enforce the law, which stipulates a taxi cannot solicit at the terminal. ‘When we think there is enough capacity and the law remains in effect, then it will be enforced,’ Mr. Wood said.

‘I met with drivers before the storm to get all of them to comply with the law, but it is difficult to get them to cooperate. They want to maximise their own business,’ he said.

When drivers are asked about the situation, tempers begin to flare. Mr. Ebanks sympathises with their anger. ‘If I was registered and the other drivers were across the street cutting prices, I’d be unhappy,’ he added.

About 110 vehicles, including taxis and tour buses, are registered to pick up passengers at the north and south terminals. Of that total, on average 60 to 70 taxis show up daily to take a number. Illegitimate taxis may number up to 25, though, according to Roy Munroe, a registered driver who has been working the docks full time since 1986. Mr. Munroe also points out that there are a few registered taxis that will jump the queue to pick up a fare.

‘Some of those pulling numbers feel they have no protection so they might as well do what everyone else is doing’ and take passengers out of turn, he said.

The financial incentive for unregistered drivers is high. A legitimate taxi will take his fare, return to the terminal to pull another number, and again wait to be called, Mr. Munroe explained. An unregistered driver ‘can make five or six runs a day’, he said.

Mr. Connolly estimates he earns about US$40 per fare and averages about US$120 each day, which drops to US$50 during the slower months. But with the system of pulling numbers, ‘you have to wait until 10.30 or 11am until you make a dollar.’

The system makes it difficult for the legitimate drivers to earn enough, he explained, adding, ‘There’s no gambling in Cayman, but every morning we have to pull a number. We’re digging for crumbs and have to take what’s left over.’

According to Mr. Wood, there are fewer than 100 taxis (both licensed and unlicensed) available, with tour buses also under capacity. Citing cruise passenger numbers of more than 14,000 for Wednesday and more than 13,000 expected today, he said, ‘there is more than enough business for all the drivers.

‘The truth is that they are all making money. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be in that business,’ he added.

At the airport, the system works better than at the docks, according to Roleny Powery, a driver who has worked at both places. The drivers simply line up to get a fare. While there are hitches, the greater problem for airport drivers is the pre-booked passengers who already have transportation arranged.

Pre-booked passengers are also a problem at the terminals, hurting the business of taxi operators, but the issue of unregistered drivers appears more of a flashpoint.

Mr. Munroe is worried that if nothing is done to stop these unlicensed taxis, ‘something serious is going to happen down there. It’s not going to end up pretty. People are threatening to do something because no one is doing anything to help.’

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