Taxi fare rates up

Expect to pay more for a taxi ride from today when a new higher fare structure comes into effect for taxis.

Members of the Transport Advisory Panel

Members of the Transport Advisory Panel with members of the Public Transport Board and the Public Transport Unit: Front row, from left: Charlie Yates, TAP representative; Kerith McCoy, PTB Member, representing the Cayman Islands Airport Authority; Burton Ebanks, TAP representative, Pilar Bush, PTB Chair and Director of Tourism; Noel Chisholm, PTB member representing the Port Authority. Standing are: Wilfred Myles of the Public Transport Unit, Chris Hadome, TAP representative; Denise Cummings, Public Transport Unit; Judy Powery PTB member representing the Ministry of Tourism, and Roger Ebanks, Public Transport Unit. Photo: Submitted

The Public Transport Board last week approved a $1 increase on the base taxi fare, raising it from CI$7 to $8 and also approved a 20 per cent increase on the mileage and hourly rates, said a press release from the PTB.

Taxi fares were last increased in 2002.

The decision comes after several weeks of board deliberations in consultation with a Taxi Advisory Panel.

The original request from the taxi operators was for a 25 per cent increase to the base fare, increases in a variety of surcharges and the mileage and hourly rates, but he PTB refused to consider any increases to the surcharges at this time.

Chair of the Public Transport Board Pilar Bush said, ‘While the Taxi Advisory Panel held firm to their request for 25 per cent, the board’s decision still provides taxi operators with a meaningful adjustment to offset the steep increases in their operating costs over the past five years.’

‘In reaching its decision, the PTB considered the information provided by the Taxi Advisory Panel as well as independent data and national statistics.’ The board sought to balance a variety of factors including: the local rate of inflation over the period 2002-2007; the elapsed time since the last fare increase; the expected inflationary effect an increase in taxi fares would have on other aspects of the local economy, she said.

The Taxi Advisory Panel was created by the PTB to improve the board’s working relationship with the more than 300 independent taxi operators and to gain their input into a number of planned improvements for the public transport sector.

Three members of the Taxi Advisory Panel contacted by the Caymanian Compass, Mr. Burton Ebanks, Chris Hadome and Charlie Yates said that the taxi drivers had sought a 20 per cent increase back in mid 2006 and had been told it would be looked on favourably by the board, but it is only now that an increase is being put in place, when it should have been implemented over a year ago.

‘It’s long overdue, especially at the end of five years. There should never have been no increase in five years,’ said Mr. Yates.

Responding to the fact that the proposal was submitted in 2006 and only coming into effect now, Ms Pilar Bush said, ‘. . . the board has acknowledged and given its assurance to the Taxi Advisory Panel that this will not happen again. The board was challenged to get a quorum for meetings on several occasions contributing to the delays. The Public Transport Board will also benefit from a better resourced Public Transport Unit with dedicated staff.’

Mr. Yates cited the increase in the cost of living in Cayman as a need for this rise in taxi fares. Gasoline has gone up nearly 30 per cent, from $3 in 2004 to $4.20 now. ‘And that’s just one cost,’ he said. ‘The cost of living has gone up so much. We’re just barely getting by in some instances,’ he said.

Mr. Yates said the $8 base fare was agreed on and it is as reasonable as can be expected to charge to a customer.

The base fare applies to the cost of the first 1.4 miles.

‘I agree it’s expensive, but what’s cheap in Cayman? We have to pay electricity, equipment repair. The whole cost of operation has gone up, including insurance,’ he said.

‘It’s just a cost of living adjustment really.’

But taxi driver Rita Bush is totally against the hike in taxi rates. ‘I think if you’ve got good service with a good clean vehicle and good customer service people will tip you well anyway.’

She said she sees tourists going to the bus stop from the hotels when they find out they have to pay a $7.50 fare to George Town.

Tourists, she said, are not returning to the island because of the cost of everything, so now is not the time to put fares up.

She said more should be done to ensure that drivers are treating customers with respect, giving them fair treatment and not overcharging them.

‘This is my island and I’m going to stay Caymanian as much as I can with good hospitality, what we’re known for, and I think that’s very important,’ she said.

Mr. Hadome questioned why taxi fares should be regulated at all because taxis are private enterprise and other private industries do not have their prices regulated by a board.

Ms Pilar Bush said that it is common for transportation agencies and governments to be involved in regulating fares for public transportation sectors like taxis and mass transport. ‘In other places, the use of meters makes it easier for the customer to understand the fares,’ she said.

But the Taxi Advisory Panel hopes that working with the PTB will help other issues for taxi drivers also.

Mr. Burton Ebanks said that while he respects the ruling of the board on the increase, he is not totally happy with it and says the Taxi Advisory Panel will work with the board on this and many other issues for taxi drivers.

Mr. Yates, explaining that the Taxi Advisory Panel was formed just recently, said, ‘The communication between the board and the drivers had been poor so we needed some representation to the board. I’m sure it will work out for the best.’

Pointing out that the public transport sector has a number of important, complex and difficult issues that still need to be tackled, Ms. Pilar Bush said, ‘We hope the Taxi Advisory Panel will continue to work with the PTB and we urge the taxi operators to come together and work with the board through the panel’.

Ms Pilar Bush noted that the base fare applies to the cost of the first 1.4 miles. Mileage rates refers to the cost (or part of the fare) calculated for every 1/10th of a mile after the first 1.4 miles. The new mileage rate is approximately 26 cents. The PTB is working to prepare and provide a standard, approved fares reference sheet. Today the fares are printed and sold by the operators themselves, she said.

The PTB Chair thanked Mr. Burton Ebanks, Mr. Richard Ebanks, Mr. Chris Hadome and Mr. Charlie Yates of the Taxi Advisory panel for their ‘commitment, perseverance and professionalism’ during the fare increase discussions.

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