The Blind Leading the Blind

Letter to the Editor:

The Daily New Article dated February 7, 2007, entitled “Consultants Share Ideas for Improving VI Tourism” smacks of political propaganda.  Although the “experts” include commentary on demography, they take a pot shot at the taxi industry without considering the realities of their so-called suggestions. The Daily News’ editorial the following day confirms the often-expressed concern that media control in the hands of a few is a dangerous situation.  Not only is the editorial inaccurate and poorly written, it endorses illegal activity.  The Editor’s statement that a “tourist who’s in the know can negotiate a strait shot to a hotel for about double the normal fare” in St. Croix is contrary to Virgin Islands’ law. The Virgin Islands’ taxi drivers do not set their fares. The Taxi Commission who operates under the Department of Licensing & Consumer Affairs set these fares.  The Daily News Editors also woefully lament that – the Virgin Islands is probably the only major tourist destination that does not offer taxi service and characterizes taxi service here is disguised as “bus service.”    

Contrary to expert (and perhaps uninformed popular) opinion, my research has revealed that the number one exit complaint of tourists in the Caribbean is the traffic congestion. See, The Star Ledger, Newark, NJ travel editorial (Most disappointing port of call: “San Juan, Puerto Rico. It's like you land and you’re right in the city, which is kind of a shock. You picture peaceful islands with swaying palms and instead you get hit with traffic jams like in New York City.”); See also, Cruising Cruisers Jam Miami Airport, an article written by Wallace Immen, a travel columnist.  A recent article published in the New York Times describes the urban sprawl and traffic congestion in the Caribbean.

Thus, the suggestion that the Virgin Islands provide “taxi service” ignores the realities of this jurisdiction and the strain on its already overburdened infrastructure. Before you blame the taxi industry for the traffic ills, please pause and consider that the unfettered commercial development despite our limited infrastructure may very well be the bigger culprit. Despite the high price of gasoline, the omnipresent threat of road rage, never-ending traffic jams, and our limited infrastructure, the suggestion that we put – perhaps double or triple taxis on the road is obtuse. 

Furthermore, it fails to recognize that  other tourist locations are endorsing “ride sharing” to reduce air pollution, traffic volumes, congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. “Ride-sharing” is becoming a trend in NYC. See, and article online describing this new social concept.  Thus, perhaps the solution is not more taxis, but a creative approach – the Virgin Islands is a small community, we endorse ride sharing to reduce air pollution, traffic volumes, congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. We apologize for any inconvenience…. you are always welcome to ride the express taxi service for $65…. [Government tariff rates]  Instead of being behind the times, we may very well be “ahead of the times.”  The luxury of traveling alone has come full circle.

It’s easy to blame the “tourism problems” on one segment of the tourism industry – especially when there is economic motive. 

This type of approach, however, doesn’t solve “the problem” it simply creates more problems. Pause and consider one travel columnist describing Bermuda:  “Bermuda's people are far more pleasant and friendly than their Caribbean counterparts.

There's no sales or income tax, and virtually no unemployment. The island is tidy: You won't see litter, you won't see slums. And you won't get caught in many traffic jams, because Bermuda limits cars to one per family and there are no rental cars.”   The Virgin Islands’ taxi industry is committed to becoming part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Unfortunately, their offers have largely gone unheeded – they certainly don’t have the ear of the public. They don’t belong to rotary, they don’t hire political spin-doctors, and not once has the Daily News called to get both sides of the story.  And so far, very few of the local government officials have demonstrated any visionary leadership.

Terri Griffiths
Attorney for VI Taxi Association