St. John taxi drivers spoke candidly and received honest, straightforward responses at a Monday evening, March 17, town hall meeting on taxi issues called by St. John Administrator Leona Smith.
Representatives from the V.I. Port Authority, V.I. National Park, Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, V.I. Waste Management Authority, V.I. Department of Public Works, Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Senator at Large Carmen Wesselhoft were in attendance to respond to local taxi drivers’ issues.
DLCA Taxi Division Director Judith Wheatley, who had been on the job less than a week the day of the town hall meeting, met taxi drivers’ issues with frank answers, and let drivers know she would go to bat for them.
“I’ve been in the industry since 1985, and I know there are troubles,” said Wheatley. “We’re here to enhance the industry as best we can. Call me any time and I’ll be more than happy to listen, but I expect you to work with me.”
DLCA legal counsel Fred Norford outlined basic rules and regulations governing taxi operations in the territory, which can be found in a booklet on sale at territory DLCA offices for $5.
Taxi drivers must be neat in appearance and not drink, smoke or use profanity while carrying passengers, according to the rules.
Drivers must not charge more or less than the set tariffs, and drivers are entitled to due process, including a hearing, whenever there is an allegation of a violation.
Taxi Stand Is Main Problem
“Certain rules pop up again and again on St. John, such as no soliciting by non-association members within 50 feet of a taxi stand,” said Norford. “St. John has a unique situation. The taxi stand problem seems to be the main problem in St. John.”
“We’re appealing to St. John to get their disciplinary committee in place,” said Norford.
Taxi drivers who give tours don’t represent St. John in a positive way, testified St. John Taxi Association member Kenneth Marsh.
“People are taking tourists on tours for half an hour, and they’re running people around the island like they’re on a race track,” said Marsh. “I’m appealing to you to do things about these guys.”
“As taximen, you are ambassadors,” replied Norford. “Sell yourself, sell the Virgin Islands and do it well.”
St. John Taxi Association president Earl Thomas raised the issue of two non-association members who continue to try to use the association’s Cruz Bay taxi stand at the ferry dock.
“We’re glad to have somebody firm in favor of the by-laws,” said Thomas of Wheatley. “These two individuals have harassed St. John taxi for 15-plus years.”
“We’ve offered the opportunity for these two individuals to come on the St. John Taxi Association,” added association member Elvis Sprauve. “There were times I was so angry when every ferry boat came in and they were moving with passengers, but we weren’t moving. We need support; that’s all we need.”
Wheatley encouraged association members to give written warnings, providing a paper trail.
Wesselhoft, a former association member and taxi driver, expressed her hope that issues between taxi drivers get resolved sooner rather than later.
“We have members who’ve pulled a knife, pulled a machete, who shouldn’t have a taxi license,” said the senator at large. “I fought this fight as a member for years. Ms. Wheatley, I don’t know if you know what you’re stepping in to.”
Posting Taxi Tariffs
Lorelei Monsanto, one of two non-taxi drivers to testify at the meeting, asked if taxi tariffs could be posted at the Cruz Bay ferry dock. A sign should be posted wherever taxis operate, replied Wheatley.
The new DLCA Taxi Division director ended the meeting on a motivational note.
“If it’s going to work, it takes two hands to clap,” said Wheatley. “I need you to pay attention to the rules and regulations. If you’re in compliance, you have nothing to worry about.”
Wheatley encouraged taxi drivers to call her with any problems at 774-3130 ext. 262.