An unscrupulous taxi driver overcharges intoxicated passengers and tourists who don’t know any better.
It’s a cliché. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain an element of truth.
In Grand Cayman, people have complained for decades about taxis deviating (upward) from the standard rate of fares, picking and choosing who they pick up and where they will take them, and sometimes outright ripping passengers off who have no alternative.
On Tuesday night, members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association convened a special meeting with one item on the agenda: visitors’ grievances over the cost (and variances in cost) of taxi rides.
Obviously, it is not good for our country to gain a reputation as being a place where taxi drivers scam passengers, particularly tourists. Concerns over dishonest drivers could harm the entire hospitality industry.
That said, our perspective on the issue differs perhaps from CITA’s, involving liaising with the Public Transport Board (which oversees Cayman’s taxis and buses) and attempting to reconcile standard fare books with the reality on the road.
First, we want to avoid making scapegoats out of taxi drivers as a class. Just like any group of human beings, most taxi drivers are honest, hardworking earnest professionals … a minority, well, maybe not so much.
Additionally, we have no clue whether taxi fares in Cayman are too high, too low or just right. We’re not taxi operators, so we don’t know how much the cabs cost to operate, what their volume of business is or the relevant profit margins. We do know that people drive taxi cabs for a variety of reasons – independence, the opportunity to socialize, love of roadside scenery, flexibility of schedule, etc. – but no one drives a cab to get rich.
We also know that Cayman’s taxi drivers must abide by a litany of rules and regulations (and at one point, a government dress code), and must pay fees for the privilege of picking up passengers, most notably (and expensively) from the airport.
As has been demonstrated across the globe by the exponential rise of “ride-sharing apps” (i.e., taxis that can be ordered online) such as Uber and Lyft, transportation companies are able to cut costs dramatically to customers when they are able to avoid, or absolve themselves from, paying extortionate government taxes and fees.
The bureaucratic reflex to Uber in many jurisdictions has been more regulation. That is to be expected, but is exactly wrong. What the governments should be doing in response to Uber – and in Cayman, in response to complaints of high or inconsistent fares – is to free taxi drivers from the mountains of red tape that have accumulated over many years.
Fundamentally, why does the Public Transport Board exist? Are Cayman’s taxi and bus services better, cheaper or more efficient as a result of the board’s oversight?
We might be able to understand the board’s raison d’être if Cayman’s taxis were modeled after London’s famous “black cabs” – where drivers undergo rigorous tests of local geography and act as true ambassadors of their city.
In Cayman, however, that is not the case. Here, the board functions less like an independent regulator and more like the executive committee of a union invested with governmental authority.
The wholly inadequate bus service is a different topic, but as far as taxis are concerned, we see no reason why drivers couldn’t be approved directly by the Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing (after demonstrating exceptional driving skills, a clean police record or other requirements, for example PRIDE training) and taxi vehicles vetted by the same agency.
Safety, professionalism and fair pricing are the obvious objectives. Boards, bureaucracy and increased regulations are not on our itinerary or our road map.