Officials at the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission say they will hold hearings into allegations about illegally issued taxi licenses. Talk about administrative hearings came up during the commission’s scheduled Friday board meeting.
About 20 cases of illegal licenses are expected to be heard over a series of hearings, and officials say that more may be brought to light. Board secretary Myrna George told commission members that the first hearing was supposed to take place on Thursday but had to be delayed.
George serves as secretary to the commission. She was asked by Commission chairwoman Loretta Lloyd to deliver a progress report to members attending Friday’s meeting.
“The first one was to happen yesterday; the gentleman retained an attorney, so now we have to wait for their scheduling,” George said.
Taxi licenses are required by law for all drivers operating vehicles for hire, whether they own the vehicle or they are working for a medallion-holding taxi owner—complaints from taxi drivers voicing suspicions about drivers operating illegally.
Commission officials have expressed their concerns to the Justice Department. An inquiry made to Justice on Friday so far has produced no reply, but spokeswoman Sandra Goomansingh said she would seek further information.
Former Taxi Commission Director Judith Wheatley said she suspects the findings of any administrative hearing will point to those drivers granted business licenses by another agency — the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs. Wheatley made her remarks during a portion of the meeting set aside for public comment.
“A lot of the illegal stuff is (sic) to business licenses through DLCA — limousine operators and illegal operators … Where is the enforcement by DLCA?’
‘Why are you licensing what you can’t regulate?” Wheatley said.
An official working with the commission, speaking to a reporter after the meeting, said attempts are being made to hold meetings with Licensing officials, so far with no results.
Administrative hearings may also be convened over the operation of open-air safari taxis. Two safari operators are challenging revised rules approved by the Legislature, reducing passenger seating from 25 to 20.
Safaris are a popular means of transport for tourists but are also used to informally supplement St. Thomas’ public bus fleet. Discussions about permissible passenger loads came up at a meeting held with lawmakers in May. Part of the discussion suggested that operators with 25-seater taxis would be allowed to continue under a grandfather provision; some lawmakers said they would revisit the matter.
Commission vice chairwoman Elizabeth Wattley and other board members asked Executive Director Vernice Gumbs when taxi license testing would resume. Lawmakers meeting with taxi operators in May and on St. John in June complained that the commission had accepted their application fees but had not scheduled tests in years.
Gumbs said testing should be delayed until the hearings were completed, but board members disagreed. The director added that there was no agreement between the commission, Tourism and the University of the Virgin Islands about test administration.
Wattley — who also serves as an assistant commissioner at Tourism — corrected the director; she said the commission has no role in training or testing taxi drivers. Tests are administered in an arrangement between Tourism and the university’s continuing education program, UVI Cell.
Since a number of weeks had passed since the director sought an update from Tourism about any progress being made, Wattley suggested Gumbs contact agency heads to learn about any new developments.
Crucian board member Sweeny Toussaint urged the commission to pay more attention to taxi activity around the Ann Abramson Marine Facility in Frederiksted. “The situation is very quickly getting out of control,” Toussaint said, “Most of the infractions are taking place outside of the pier.”
Some of the infractions, he said, involve unlicensed taxi and tour operators. The time for the commission to address the problem is now, Toussaint said, given the increased schedule of cruise ship arrivals on St. Croix over the next few months.