An appeal on a public records request for data on how many taxi drivers work for government has been denied by Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston, who ruled on Friday that having the Public Transportation Unit retrieve such information would be an unreasonable diversion of its resources.
The request was originally made on April 30 by the applicant, who was seeking information on how many taxi drivers exist in Grand Cayman, how many of them are employed by government, how many are police officers or prison officers, how many are Caymanian-born or are status holders, and how many originate from Jamaica.
On May 28, the Ministry of District Administration, Tourism and Transport responded that there are 285 taxis on Grand Cayman, but the Public Transportation Unit does not keep statistics on the other information.
In June, the applicant appealed his case to Ombudsman Hermiston, who investigated and found that the information about taxi drivers’ employment status and nationality is kept on their individual application forms. The question to be decided was whether extracting the information from each application form would be an unreasonable diversion of the Public Transportation Unit’s resources.
The ministry argued that this would indeed be unreasonable because the file of each taxi operator is 25-75 pages and is kept in two, four-drawer filing cabinets.
“The [ministry information manager] claims there are also a number of additional files in a back room which are in ‘boxes, piles, etc.,’” stated the ombudsman in her decision, adding that a number of photos were provided that show the records in “disarray.”
The ministry further argued that some taxi operators only put in their applications that they work for “government,” instead of specifically saying that they work for police or the prisons. Therefore, the Public Transportation Unit would have to take more time to see where specifically these operators work. Moreover, the Public Transportation Unit would also have to redact much sensitive information if it were to provide the applicant with the taxi operators’ applications.
All told, the ministry estimated that it would have to examine more than 1,000 files – “which apparently includes the disorganized files in the back room” – a task that would take up to eight months.
The ministry did say that, moving forward, statistics on some of the information requested will be pulled from applications.
“This would allow the production of statistics in the future,” the ombudsman wrote. “Specifically, the Ministry stated that PTU will update ‘their electronic records during the renewal period of the Taxi licenses, which begins in December 2018 and ends in March 2019.’”
The applicant, for her part, argued that the records request is not unreasonable, and that the only reason the Public Transportation Unit cannot comply is because of its inefficiency. The applicant also argued that the time and money spent on denying access to the records could have been spent on fulfilling the request. The money itself could have been used to hire a summer intern to compile the information, she said.
“The Applicant believes PTU has neglected its duties towards transparency and accountability, as expected under the FOI Law. Unlike the statements made by the [ministry information manager], the information required to compile the requested statistics exists,” Ombudsman Hermiston wrote in her decision. “However, it has not yet been put together, despite the passage of sufficient time since the FOI Law has come into effect.”
In her decision, Ms. Hermiston disagreed with the amount of time it would take to compile the requested information. She estimated that it would take almost a month, though she said this may be an optimistic estimate, given the redactions that may be required.
She also found that the Public Transportation Unit’s electronic records system has not been kept up-to-date and is unreliable.
“This revelation is troubling,” she said. “It was explained that the system, while searchable by the name of the taxi operator, is aimed primarily at managing information on the vehicles used by operators, not about the operators themselves.”
Despite disagreeing with the ministry’s time estimate and criticizing the Public Transportation Unit’s record-keeping practices, the ombudsman still found that it would be an unreasonable diversion of resources to comply with the applicant’s request.
Ombudsman Hermiston added that she commends the ministry for its commitment to update its records moving forward, and that she expects the ministry to live up to this promise so statistics on taxi operators can be proactively published.
Due to the poor state of the records, the ombudsman added that she is “flagging” the ministry and the unit for an audit in respect of its record-keeping practices, the modification of its electronic system, and the proactive provision of relevant statistics.