A taxi driver who clashed with the Public Transport Board over cab fares in Grand Cayman has had his license suspended.
Chris Hadome, as vice president of the Cayman Islands Taxi Association, was in the midst of what he believed were ongoing discussions about a new rate structure for taxi drivers. He says he produced a draft book of fares, updating the 2007 edition, for approval by the board.
He says he was shocked to receive letters last month informing him that both his and his wife’s taxi licenses had been suspended for six months. The letter accused them of selling the new book without authorization, which they deny.
The couple have been in the taxi business in Cayman for more than 30 years and Mr. Hadome says he has never had a complaint or a traffic ticket in that time. He says the suspension came without warning and without any response to his requests for a change in the fare structure.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I have no income right now. How am I going to pay my mortgage, how am I going to pay my light bill?”
Mr. Hadome and his wife have appealed the ban but are currently off the road. If the suspension is upheld, he says, they will be out of business for the entire tourism high season. He says they have produced the rate book for years in consultation with the PTB and have only ever charged the approved fares to customers.
The letter to Mrs. Hadome, seen by the Cayman Compass, states: “The Public Transport Board (PTB) received a complaint that you and your husband, Mr. Christopher Hadome, are selling to other taxi operators, a taxi rate booklet comprising incorrect taxi rates for destinations throughout the island, without authorization from the PTB.
“As a public transport operator, you are obligated by law to conduct yourself in such a way as not to cause annoyance to any member of the public or bring the Cayman Islands tourism into disrepute.”
The letter, a similar copy of which was sent to Mr. Hadome, instructs them to turn in their taxi IDs and de-register their vehicles.
“During this period, if it is reported to the Board that you have been seen in the driver’s seat of ANY public transport vehicle, your permit will be revoked,” the letter warns.
Mr. Hadome acknowledges he produced a new rate book on behalf of taxi drivers in his previous role with the now defunct taxi association. But he said the book was intended as a draft update on the edition he produced in 2007 – still used by most taxi operators – pending PTB approval.
He insists he continued to use the old rate book, approved by the board in 2007, to calculate fares. He says he never sold the new book and was still waiting to hear from the PTB if the rates had been approved when he was suspended.
In a letter of appeal against the suspension, he indicates that he produced the book at the behest of other drivers:
“There is some miscommunication between ourselves and the PTU [Public Transport Unit]. They are of the opinion that we are setting our own rates. In a letter dated August 2016, complete with over a hundred signatures from other taxi operators asking me to maintain the book and create copies for their reference so that they can stay compliant and charge the right prices approved by the PTU board. I will continue to maintain that we do not set the rates; we are only caretakers of the rate book.”
Several taxi drivers told the Compass that they use the rate book produced by Mr. Hadome in 2007, though this is slowly being replaced by a new book, with the same rates, produced by the PTB.
Durk Banks, director of the Public Transport Unit, did not respond to multiple calls and emails from the Compass in June and July about the dispute over rates and the PTB’s role in the process. He did not respond again this week when asked about the suspension of the Hadomes’ licenses.
The Public Transport Unit provides operational direction to the Public Transport Board.
Mr. Hadome claims that the taxi drivers have historically set rates in consultation with the Public Transport Board, which has a legal remit to approve rates around the island. He says he has used those fares to create a rate book as a guide for drivers.
He wrote to the Public Transport Board last year saying taxi drivers wanted to change the rate system to allow them to charge higher fares when transporting more than two people, and asking for the board’s support.
Under the current system, the rate for a cab ride is based on one to three people, with the fare increasing if additional passengers are added. The drivers wanted the fare to be for one to two people, with the capacity to increase the fare beginning when a third passenger gets in the cab – a de facto increase for larger parties.
Mr. Hadome characterized this as a request from the taxi drivers.
Minutes from Public Transport Board meetings indicate that the board viewed it more as a demand.
“Board members exchanged different views and ideas about the matter and feel that the operators should not institute any rate illegally unless advised by the Board. They feel that the rate should remain the same for transporting 1-3 persons and not 1-2 persons in a family,” minutes from the board’s September 2015 meeting indicate.
The minutes suggest that board members expressed a preference for getting rid of the escalating rate structure altogether in favor of a one-journey, one-fare system.
Irrespective of the merits of either argument, Mr. Hadome insists he was not operating outside the agreed fare structure and was attempting to represent the interests of taxi drivers in discussions with the board. He believes he has been harshly treated.
“There was no warning, no discussion, nothing,” he said.