Tourists are frequently left feeling ripped off over taxi fares in Grand Cayman, according to multiple business owners who warn that high prices are putting off customers and damaging the reputation of the destination.
Several restaurant and tourist attraction managers raised concerns about fares which they said vary wildly depending on who is driving the cab.
The Cayman Islands Tourism Association Allied Land Based Attraction and Transport Sector held a special meeting Tuesday in an effort to broker a solution amid confusion over what the fare schedule should be and how it is enforced.
Some members called for an end to Cayman’s unusual practice of charging significantly varying fares for the same route depending on how many passengers are in the cab.
The association aims to act as a facilitator to hear the issues and concerns of taxi drivers as well as those of hotels and restaurants and work with the Public Transport Board to establish a fare schedule and system that is acceptable to both drivers and tourists.
Matthew Bishop, CEO of Island Companies and Cayman Distributors and one of the directors of the association, said it wants taxi drivers to be able to earn a good living and be ambassadors for the industry.
But he said there needs to be clarity and consistency over prices.
“Whether it is the reality or not, people are certainly feeling ripped off. There have been comments on TripAdvisor and it affects the reputation of the destination.
“It’s a simple concept. How much does the journey cost? Fares shouldn’t vary depending on which car you hop in, who’s driving or which concierge you go through.
“We need to make sure taxi drivers can charge an appropriate rate for what they offer, but there needs to be a much higher level of transparency about how these rates are calculated. If you’re going to West Bay and the difference between a $20 and a $40 fare is whether you have got one extra child in the car, then guests are going to get frustrated. It is absurd, it doesn’t cost any more to have an additional passenger in the car,” he said.
Tim Adam, managing director of the Cayman Turtle Centre, said the attraction has started banning certain taxi drivers from the premises for over-charging customers.
He believes taxis should be required to have meters to ensure there is no confusion over the proper fares. He said they should also be able to take credit cards now and called for the industry to come into the 21st century.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of an ongoing dispute between the Public Transport Board and some taxi drivers over the legitimacy of the board’s recently produced fare schedule. Previously, the drivers have produced a fare book and submitted it to the board for approval.
The Public Transport Board has now published its own list and distributed it to businesses. However, the list contains some inaccuracies, including miscalculated distances, and its legitimacy is disputed by some drivers.
Chris Hadome, who represents the Cayman Islands Taxi Association and is also a member of CITA, said the group is no longer recognized by the board and has effectively disbanded. He said the board’s job is to approve fares, not to set them, and insisted it had not consulted with drivers over its schedule and had not distributed the list to all drivers. He said most were still using a 2008 fare schedule, produced by the taxi association and approved by the board.
He acknowledged that several groups are seeking to represent taxi drivers on the island and agreed that it makes sense for CITA to attempt to reach a compromise between drivers and the board.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, the association is seeking to act as a broker between drivers and the board to establish an accurate and enforceable fare schedule that can be circulated among businesses and all taxi drivers.
Joanna Boxall, one of the directors of CITA, said the group would meet with five of the larger taxi groups to get their input before meeting again with the transport board in an effort to come up with a plan that works for tourism businesses, taxis and tourists.
Several restaurant owners and managers said the current situation is impacting their businesses, with tourists choosing to walk to nearby restaurants rather than pay to go anywhere outside of Seven Mile Beach.
One business owner said he got complaints from guests every night of the week about the taxi fare. He said he asked the Public Transport Board for a fare list, which they had provided. But he said drivers frequently deviate from the schedule and the prices seemed to vary randomly.
“It doesn’t make sense. We have a menu. We can’t say one day the chicken is $20 but for you it’s $40. There has to be one price.” Another restaurateur said, “We had people cancel a dinner reservation for a party of eight because the taxi fare was too much. They wanted $120 for a five-mile round-trip.”
He said guests were consistently confused by the policy of charging extra because of the number of passengers in the vehicle.