An “electronic fare calculator” – a more basic version of an Uber-style smartphone app – is proposed as a solution to concerns over inconsistent taxi fares in the Cayman Islands.
Consultants from Deloitte were hired to evaluate taxi rates and propose ways to modernize the service following ongoing complaints.
Their report, dated April 2018, and released to the Cayman Compass following a Freedom of Information Request, suggests concerns over the price and quality of taxi service in Cayman have resulted in negative destination reviews and an increase in official complaints to the Public Transport Board.
The consultants interviewed taxi operators as well as officials from the Public Transport Board and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, among others, in an effort to get to grips with the issues impacting the industry.
Concern over the cost of taxi rides, especially at night, lack of transparency over how rates are calculated and a lack of “user friendliness” in the existing printed rate sheets were cited among key concerns. Poor customer service and difficulty in regulating drivers were also flagged as issues.
Conversely, taxi drivers argued that the rates were too low and needed to be increased.
Deloitte looked at three options: taxi meters, an Uber-style app or a more basic electronic fare calculator.
Ultimately, the consultants concluded that meters were outdated technology and would be costly to implement. A smartphone app would require a team of tech staff to operate and could add “exorbitant costs” as well as data protection concerns for government, the consultants noted. Such apps also provide a layer of service, including payment method and GPS tracking, that were not strictly necessary and in some cases were unwanted by drivers.
Seeking a cost-effective alternative, the consultants proposed using an electronic fare calculator. This is described as a phone app that works offline and is simply for rate calculation. It would enable passengers to check fares, could be hosted on the government website and would not require backup staff, the report indicates.
Deloitte suggested it would still be open to a private sector business to establish a full-service, Uber-like app, which could be used to hail cabs, make payments, monitor and rate drivers, as well as calculate fares.
The Deloitte report was commissioned amid complaints from businesses that tourists were frequently left feeling ripped off after taking taxis in Grand Cayman. Several restaurant and tourist attraction managers raised concerns at a CITA meeting in December 2016 about fares, which they said vary wildly depending on who is driving the cab.
Matthew Bishop, CEO of Island Companies and Cayman Distributors and one of the directors of the association, said at the time, “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.”
The Deloitte report did not determine how much a fare should be in the Cayman Islands. The consultants did use local data, including the cost of purchasing, maintaining and insuring a vehicle, to calculate the cost of running a cab in the islands. They put the cost per mile at $1.62-$1.64 for high-frequency operators, $1.91-$1.95 for low-frequency operators and $1.68-$1.71 for medium-frequency operators. It would be for the government to decide what profit margin should be added when calculating reasonable fares, the report notes.
“Deloitte has not taken a view on what the revised fare should be, since we had no sight of the current fare structure basis or factors considered in determining what would be a reasonable profit for a taxi operator.”
Asked what action had been taken since the report, Rosa Harris, Director of Tourism and the Public Transport Board chair, said work on a strategic plan, which would include a “provision of tools to support the sector,” had commenced.
She added, “The continued growth of tourism in the Cayman Islands requires that public transport services expand. The [Public Transport Board ] have done just that by increasing the capacity for both omnibus, taxi and tour categories. This has created more jobs and entrepreneurship in the economy. The Public Transport Board will continue to build an infrastructure for success.”