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.

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  1. It is not popular for ministers of Gov’t to regulate taxis so they pass it on to new entities. We have a public transport board no taxi or bus drivers on the board, why? I’ve been a taxi/bus driver for 27 years, I have asked for a meter to be placed in taxis with other taxi operators and Robert hunter when he was president along with David Espeut and Burton Ebanks. They brought them in 25 years ago no Gov’t regulation nothing happened. We have taxis and busses that run at the dock and are the same price to go to the beach or do tours, only in the Cayman Islands is that allowed. We have dispatchers on the dock they check how many people went in a bus or taxis and you pull a number out of a box to cue on the dock based on the blessing of the lord. Why don’t dispatchers sit in a booth and dispatch customers to busses or cabs? It is so humiliating to watch people tout for business with a sign shouting for people to go to a beach or tour or stingray city . It is not necessary.Each month we have more and more taxis and busses coming out . We don’t have more ships coming now. Why not wait till the new pier is started. So more and more stress on the industry. We no longer have 10 months of business ,it is going to 6 months. Off season is 3-4 days of 1-3 ships one week and 1-2 ships the next week, ridiculous . Why can taxis go and do business every day or night at either hotels, restaurants, clubs, airports or cruise ship docks but not busses, so unfair. Why don’t you ask intelligent or educated entrepreneurs who are in the business to help make decisions for free?

    • Life is not fair, indeed.
      When the last sqf of this island is developed, what Real estate professionals are going to demand? A new island? What are they going to do if there would be nothing to sell?
      Each destination has its tourism carrying capacity. What is the carrying capacity of the Grand Cayman?
      If taxi and bus drivers can’t make living because they only have 6 months of business, too many taxis and not enough customers, may it is more prudent to look into new types of business instead of demanding new piers? Nobody owes us anything.
      Look at the expats from all over the world. Instead of demanding jobs from their governments they went ahead and found it ….in the Cayman Islands.
      The world is huge, opportunities are endless.
      Many folks in the Cayman Islands have found their niche. Some grow, can and sell peppers, some sell totes made of feed bags, some are exploring iguana meat business, there organic agriculture is growing.
      One may want to look into new types of businesses popping up in the USA for example. “Wegoshop”, “be my designated driver”, etc. instead of ripping off existing customers and demanding more business at the cost environmental destruction and quality of life for the residents.

  2. David I must agree with you, and whether those in authority know what is going on or not; but a lot of scamming is taking place on island in these areas.
    There is just no control on any of it and if those in authority want to find out the truth all they have to do is set people undercover pretending they are drunk or don not know the island and see if they do not get charged 25.00 to go from Burger King to Kentucky. We do absolutely nothing about everything, and complaining only go as far as the paper or a phone call, it all stop right there.

  3. 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.

    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?

    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.

    My last job in the Cayman Islands was as a security officer at one of the major hotels on the 7-Mile Beach and my current business in the UK is…transportation.

    I can shed some insight on this issue but the conclusions are not pleasant and excuses no one; in this respect, all are in some way guilty.

    First…to address some of Caycompass’s quoted statements.

    Your statements that no one drives a taxi to get rich…and your reasons given for driving a taxi are facetious and IMO, disrespectful.

    Taxi drivers drive taxis to provide a necessary service and to make a decent living out of it that can support their lives and families; it is an honorable and honest profession the world over.

    That being said…accusations of passengers being ripped off by taxi drivers is also a universal issue, especially in places where the industry is not properly regulated and supervised vis a vis the Cayman Islands.

    I have personally arbitrated disputes between taxi drivers where there was basically a mis-understanding as to how the system of charging fares work, leading to accusations of dishonesty by the drivers…and instances where there was a clear attempt by the guest/passenger to rip off the driver through trickery.

    We have also had to report drivers for a litany of offenses, including over-charging…and have had to ban certain drivers from the hotel outright.

    Your questions on the PTB (Public Transport Board) are spot on.

    It is one of the most complained-about, dictatorial and bullying of public authorities…and extremely in-efficient.

    For example, a taxi licence application can take as long as 2 years to process, as there is a limit on the number of licences allowed, yet some individuals can have theirs issued in a much shorter time, depending on who they are…and who they know; accusations of outright corruption have been made and investigated against the members of this PTU to the Tourism Ministry, under which it falls.

    It seems that this board…and its enforcement arm, the PTU (Public Transportation Unit) was set up for only two purposes; to tax the transportation industry and to protect the interests of the ‘big players’ in the industry by limiting their competition from the smaller operators in the industry.

    One of the rules of the PTB is that no operator can own more than one transport licence at any one time….eg…an operator cannot own and operate a tour bus and taxi at the same time but the major transport companies provide ALL of these services under one umbrella, cutting out the small single operator out of much of the existing business….essentially they are guaranteed the lion’s share of the business and the single licence operators are left to hussle for what is basically the left-overs.

    The issue goes much deeper than that; another element of it is that most of Cayman’s taxi drivers are foreign nationals who have no political voice and even though, in the current system, Caymanians rights are being trampled upon, they do not speak up for fear of the vindictiveness and dictatorial powers of this PTB to take away their licences and leave them un-employed and unable to support their families.

    One obvious solution to this problem would be to implement a metering system, as in most of the countries from which the majority of Cayman’s visitors come and are used to.

    Even if that is done, that would be only a step in the right direction in regulating and stabilising what is now a major industry in Cayman that has become almost totally out of control.

  4. At least hiring a taxi at the airport is not an issue. You advise the taxi dispatcher of your destination and the # of passengers and you are given a ticket with the fare written on it, I pay $13.50 for 3 passengers to my residence accross from Sunset House which is quite reasonable. I find the drivers efficient and courteous and always use them for longer trips.
    The last driver we used had a large photo of himself on the dash with all his details so he could be readily identified to the PTU if there was a problem. Is this now a standard requirement, as I know some years ago no driver posted their details in the cab.

  5. I have been to Bangkok in Thailand several times over the years.

    About 10 years ago you had to negotiate a fare with a taxi driver when you got into the cab. They had meters but kept them turned off for tourists.

    More recently I was pleasantly surprised that when I got in taxis there the meter was always turned on without asking.

    No idea of the reason for this change but perhaps enough tourists complained about being ripped off. Which was pretty much universal.

    By contrast I am sure most taxis here are honest and do charge a fair fare.

    But it is the unscrupulous few that give the rest a bad name.