The recent announcement by the country’s top transport official that spaces for taxi cabs will be reintroduced on Bay Street will translate into thousands of dollars in savings for drivers who insist they’ve had to dish out much of their minimal profits to pay for traffic tickets.
For the past three years, taxi drivers have not had marked spaces to accommodate their vehicles. The spaces were removed after the roads were paved. But, the taxi spaces were not restored after paving was complete.
Transport Minister Glenys Hanna Martin told parliamentarians in the House of Assembly on Wednesday that the spaces would be put back on Bay Street to satisfy disgruntled and frustrated taxi drivers.
The Ministry of Works is expected to soon begin plotting and clearly marking the spaces, Mrs. Hanna Martin said.
Chairman of the Prince George Wharf Tax Drivers Committee Hubert McIntosh is among the hundreds of cab drivers who on Thursday welcomed the news from the minister.
“This move will provide emergency help for my members because they get ticketed at least $100 every day for parking on Bay Street, but there are no markings on the street. The markings were promised time and time again but never happened,” Mr. McIntosh told the Bahama Journal.
“We’ve lost thousands of dollars,” he said. “Even I was cited for a traffic violation because there was nowhere for me to park. Sometimes limousine drivers have even had to move to avoid getting tickets. The tour buses and other Omni buses take up all the space, yet and still we are left without parking.”
Sidney Kemp – a limousine driver – said the money it costs to operate a limo, and pay for tickets assessed due to lack of dedicated parking, exceeds any kind of profits, making it hard to survive in the already saturated transportation industry.
“We are happy to know that our complaints have not fallen on deaf ears. When you consider limo drivers, the licensing fee is close to $600 and that’s nothing to do with insurance or inspection, which is due twice a year,” Mr. Kemp said.
“So, I feel it is not fair that when I come to work I am harassed by many of the officers who use no discretion at all.”
Ricardo Burrows explains that the issues go far beyond paying traffic tickets. The absence of parking is also affecting his and other drivers’ bottom line.
“The issue with parking in the downtown area has been extremely challenging. One of the issues is we are competing for parking spaces with the tour buses which take up a lot of spaces which were initially given to taxi drivers,” Mr. Burrows explained.
He continued, “You can speak to a number of cab drivers who have received $80 and $100 tickets simply because they can’t find parking. But more than that, in order for you to get a fare, the first thing you need to do is find a place to park.”
Mr. Burrows argued that drivers sometimes find themselves circling for 15 to 20 minutes before they can find a space.
During that period, he said drivers are faced with the harassment of police and traffic congestion.
“So when you consider all of this, it really affects our bottom line greatly,” said Mr. Burrows.
Phillip Hanna is another driver who expressed concerns about his bottom line with the Bahama Journal.
However, Mr. Hanna said he is hoping once the spaces are clearly marked that the police will ensure they are only utilised by taxi drivers.
“Store workers would take all the spaces on Bay Street by parking from early in the morning and remaining there all day. But even then, the police can’t do anything about it because there are no markings on the street,” Mr. Hanna said.
“When the taxi spaces are put back in place, we would like for the minister to liaise with the Commissioner of Police to ensure taxi spots are not utilised by private vehicles,” Mr. Burrows said.
Taxi drivers are often referred to the front line of the country’s number one industry, Sterling Ferguson, a driver more concerned about impressing his customers said Bahamians must begin to give taxi drivers the respect they rightfully deserve
“As you know, taxi drivers are the bread winners for the country. We are the first ones the tourist would meet. So we are more or less spokespersons for the country and I don’t think we get that much respect as a result of being spokespersons for the country,” Mr. Ferguson said.
The Transport and Aviation Minister has not announced a date for the work to begin, however, Mrs. Hanna Martin has promised to hold talks with the Taxi Cab union to agree on the best placement of the spaces on Bay Street.