In the Cayman Islands, it is a well-known fact that many bus and taxi operators drive dangerously, will rip you off when the opportunity presents itself, and may even drop you off at a destination you had no intention of visiting.
While the state of Cayman’s bus and taxi service is not as visible as long lines at the airport, or the towering landfill, its dysfunction should be regarded with equal seriousness.
Once a person climbs aboard a bus or cab – he or she becomes, in effect, a captive. Regular bus passengers depend on drivers to get them to work, school, home and appointments safely and on time. Tourists, of course, rely on taxi drivers to navigate unfamiliar surroundings while dealing honestly in unfamiliar currency.
Following the patterns in any population, it is likely the majority of Cayman’s bus and taxi drivers are competent, caring and responsible professionals who perform their duties diligently and treat their customers fairly. (For a “good news” taxi story, please click here and meet driver Romellia Welcome who, along with RCIPS Inspector Courtney Myles, deserve Good Samaritan awards.)
Most likely, the 389 complaints and queries lodged last year with Cayman’s Public Transportation Board (which is the appointed regulatory body charged with overseeing the country’s buses and taxis) pertain to a small minority of operators whose actions sully the reputation of their fellow drivers.
The Cayman Compass, through the use of a freedom of information request, has uncovered a long list of, frankly, shocking behavior by too many of our taxi and bus drivers. Passenger complaints included exorbitant overcharging, reckless driving, a driver falling asleep at the wheel, another threatening to practice obeah (think sorcery) against someone, and even one driver who made a death threat against a rival driver.
Drivers of public minibuses generated the bulk of the complaints. Passengers and inspectors reported drivers skipping stops, curtailing routes (especially to East End and North Side), behaving rudely, and operating vehicles that failed to meet basic standards of cleanliness and good working order.
Nearly everyone on the island could share anecdotes about taxi drivers’ rude behavior, the charging of larcenous fees, resistance to electronic meters, lack of basic knowledge about Cayman’s geography, to name a few.
This is the same group our government wants to shelter from competition and technological innovation, granting them special “protected status” by prohibiting the Uber-like deployment of “non-professional” drivers through the new Flex ride service app.
While the drivers themselves are individually responsible for their behavior, accountability ultimately falls on the Public Transportation Board, the government entity that grants, suspends or revokes an operator’s license to drive a bus or taxi.
Last November, Public Transport Unit Director Durk Banks told legislators a total of 450 “enforcement actions” had been taken against public bus, tour and taxi operators over the previous year, but only two drivers had had their licenses revoked.
Two out of 450!
Mr. Banks told lawmakers then that drivers generally are not forwarded to the board for infractions unless they have received three citations from enforcement officers. Once drivers do come before the board, they face consequences of increasing severity, from probation, to a written warning, suspension and license revocation.
Too many accidents. Too many complaints. Far too many “second chances.”
If board members do not have the desire or the resolve to ensure that Cayman’s public transportation system meets the quality standard of a first-class destination, they should resign or be replaced. They are there to do an important job – not just to go along for the proverbial ride.