The new traffic law may call for taxis to have meters, but this does not necessarily mean electronic meters, according to the body that regulates taxis in the Cayman Islands.
Director of the Public Transport Unit Durk Banks told the Caymanian Compass that “the definition of a taximeter does not mean an electronic meter”.
The definition of a taximeter in the Public Passenger Vehicle regulations is “any device for calculating the fare to be charged in respect of any journey in a taxi by reference to the distance travelled or time elapsed since the start of the journey, or a combination of both”.
Mr. Banks said: “Therefore, a rate sheet is a ‘device’ that can be used to calculate the fare to be charged in respect of any journey in a taxi by reference to the distance travelled.”
At the moment, taxi drivers use rate sheets to determine fares.
The Cayman Islands Tourism Association has asked the Public Transport Board, which regulates public passenger vehicles in the Cayman Islands, to look into installing electronic meters in taxis after the tourism association cited the installation of meters in cabs as a priority in improving the tourist experience in Cayman.
Last year, the Public Transport Unit received 424 complaints about taxis and buses. Mr. Banks said none of those complaints related directly to taxis not having meters, although he acknowledged that the unit had received complaints about disputed fares, which he said sometimes arose, for example, when passengers not accustomed to the local practice of paying for each additional passenger after three people.
Although the unit contends that the law does not require taxis to have electronic meters and the rate sheets used by cab drivers to calculate fares are perfectly legal, the unit is working with the Public Transport Board to examine the process involved in installing and monitoring electronic meters this year.
“We have started by surveying the user, i.e., taxi drivers, as a first step in this process prior to developing of an RFP [request for proposals] for the supplying of the equipment needed,” Mr. Banks said.
Traffic law regulations governing public passenger vehicles state: “The driver of a taxi shall not carry on any business of plying for hire or carrying passengers for hire or reward unless the taxi is fitted with a taximeter.” It continues: “No taxi with a taximeter shall, at any time, be used for plying for hire or carrying passengers for hire or reward unless the taximeter has been tested and approved by or on behalf of the board.”
Shomari Scott, director of tourism and chairman of the Public Transport Board, said: “The Public Transport Unit is going through the current phase of garnering feedback from the users and stakeholders that would be impacted by electronic taxi metering.
“The Public Transportation Board wants to ensure that the industry offers the best customer service possible and, therefore, once this phase of info gathering is complete, if the decision is made for electronic metering to be a standard for all taxis, the next phase in which the RFP [request for proposals] would be developed and launched would be during March.”
Taxi drivers argue that installing electronic taximeters will be costly, are not necessary and may result in higher fares for customers.
Christopher Hadome, president of the Taxi Association, which represents taxi drivers, said a trial of electronic taxi meters in cabs several years ago was unsuccessful due to technical problems associated with the meters and issues arising from customers asking the drivers to turn off the meters when the vehicle got stuck in traffic.
“We already have an established basic rate from point A to point B,” Mr. Hadome said. “Passengers can ask how much they’re going to pay. For example, from The Ritz-Carlton to George Town it’s CI$12 or US$15 … If you have a meter and it takes a long time, it will cost [the customer] more.”
He also argued that the government did not have the resources to implement a meter system or to ensure that the meters are maintained. “They just don’t have the manpower to deal with technical or maintenance problems. If the meter breaks down, who will fix it?” he asked. “They say we must have a meter, but if the meter breaks down and it takes weeks to fix it, you’re off the road. If you’re waiting for a part, it could take three weeks.”
The other issue concerning cab drivers is how much they will have to pay to put an electronic meter on their dashboards. Mr. Hadome said the drivers had heard that they may have to pay up to $500 each for the equipment and have asked that if they are required to have the meters, that they should be able to source them themselves.
“Taxi companies are private companies. We’re not a government-run department. We’re not working for the government. The government makes laws and gives permits to operate,” he said, adding that it should not be up to the government to source taximeters that would be used by the drivers.
The cost to the operators would be taken into account when considering the installation of meters, Mr. Scott said.
He added that improvements to the existing system would be “investigated and implemented, even if electronic meters prove to not be the best option with all factors considered”.