The chances of an Uber-style app getting off the ground in the Cayman Islands could hinge on new legislation currently being drafted by government.
Director of Tourism Rosa Harris, who is also head of the Public Transport Board, expressed support for app-based ride-share initiatives, but insisted such businesses will only be able to use licensed taxi drivers.
She suggested Cayman would not open its doors to Uber but could provide support for a Caymanian version, with two fledgling local businesses currently in the development stage.
In other jurisdictions, businesses like Lyft and Uber rely on a large contingent of part-time drivers to put enough cars on the road to make the business viable. In the Cayman Islands, taxi drivers are essentially a closed category of employment, with the Public Transport Board regulating if and when new licences can be granted to a waiting list of applicants.
Harris said there were two companies, Flex and Cabbie, which either had trade and business licences or had expressed intent to operate app-based ride-share schemes.
She said government supported their efforts and was willing to assist them, but would not allow them to use unlicenced drivers.
Speaking at a Chamber of Commerce forum last week, Harris sought to address criticism that the tourism and transport industry had not moved swiftly enough to address concerns about overcharging, inconsistent fares and taxi availability.
She said government had specific solutions in mind, but she could not say what those solutions were until new legislation had been drafted.
She said that legislation would also consider regulation for ride-share businesses.
“I think we should have a Caymanian Uber,” she said, when asked about the possibility of ride-share apps on island.
“I would prefer it to stay in the Cayman Islands and be a Cayman-owned business.
“We support the taxi apps that are proposed. The legislation will also propel those companies by giving them the framework of a new taxi fare scheme, and we will work with them as well.”
She did not indicate if the ministry planned to open up additional Public Transport Board licences – something that is considered crucial to allow those businesses to register enough drivers to be viable.
The owners of Flex, speaking to the Cayman Compass in March, said they were working towards a pilot launch with around 30 drivers. But their efforts were delayed because a lack of new licence slots made it difficult to register drivers. Eventually, they would like to hire around 150 drivers and offer round the clock service.
Speaking more generally about concerns over taxis and the level of service provided, Harris said the Public Transport Board had been working on a solution for the past 18 months as part of a broader review of public transport.
She said the board had also heard concerns from taxi drivers that their fares were not high enough.
“We have business solutions that we are working on, but it is dependent on legislation that is currently being drafted,” she said. Those solutions will not be announced until the legislation is in place, she added.
“You can take … reassurance that the board has heard the public outcry over inconsistent taxi fares,” she said. “We have also heard from taxis that they haven’t had a raise since 2008, and we are trying to balance those concerns.”