The season’s first nor’wester winds sparking the need to disembark cruise tourists at Spotts dock on Grand Cayman’ south side has also re-ignited the demand for improvements to the facility.
Continuing organization, parking and traffic flow problems were apparent this week, creating a messy situation for tourists and taxi and bus drivers alike.
While a few minor improvements have been made to the Spotts terminal in recent years, the condition of the premises and the system coordinating tourists with transportation is fraught with problems.
The dock area itself lacks even the most basic amenities like shade and paved walkways, making passing through especially difficult for the disabled and elderly.
Due to lack of space, tourist buses are forced to marshal on the opposite side of busy Shamrock Road. Because they must cross to the south side to pick up their passengers, one lane of Shamrock is closed off in the area to ensure passenger safety.
At the height of the morning rush hour, this causes severely traffic backlogs along Shamrock.
Public transport vehicles and taxis park in a vast lot on the same side of the road as the dock, but critical infrastructural factors are lacking.
The vast sandy lot is neither clearly demarcated, fenced, nor paved. The Port Authority’s taxi dispatcher supervisor Noel Chisholm estimates 25 to 30 per cent of the vast sandy lot is unusable due to poor maintenance and large sections of soft sand.
The area holds from 70 to 130 mostly idling vehicles at one time, which leads to a congested and exhaust-filled Cayman welcome for tourists.
While an orderly system for escorting and loading cruise passengers into the taxis and on their way to George Town is said to be in effect, a recent visit showed that it is difficult to enforce because so many drivers have access to exiting tourists.
‘To shuttle tourists to George Town, what is supposed to happen is that one large bus, two smaller buses and three taxis are loaded up, in that order, and the whole process begins again,’ said Mr. Chisholm.
However, he said the difficulty in enforcing this makes it easy for any taxi driver to walk up to tourists exiting the terminal and escort them to their own vehicle out of turn.
Joseph Woods of Port Security says the Island’s taxi drivers are organized into 25-vehicle groups, which have guaranteed fares on a rotating basis, so that one particular group will know the day before whether they will be eligible for priority pickup.
The remaining taxis for that day are randomly selected.
While this system is easy to implement in downtown George Town, the distance of Spotts from the town centre makes it a common practice for taxis to race to Spotts early in the morning to jockey for position in the hope they will be on the list,
Officer Miguel McFarlane, charged with ensuring cruise passenger safety in the area, says it is a situation that not only creates tense behaviours in the lot, but affects morning rush hour traffic flow into town from all the turning vehicles.
Mr. Woods says that the government is now once more moving ahead with an improvement plan for Spotts, which was delayed by Ivan and was budgeted to cost in the area of $500,000 in 2003-2004.
‘We have plans that will see the area paved and landscaped that will vastly improve the situation from the infrastructure perspective,’ he said.
But what is most important, say Mr. Chisholm and Mr. Wood, is the cooperation of the taxi operators in complying with the regulations on taxi operations.