Committee forwards bills to grant exclusive franchises to taxi associations
Published: October 4, 2012
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ST. CROIX - Members of a Senate committee on Wednesday voted to forward bills that would grant exclusive franchise agreements at four of the territory's ports to different taxi associations to the full Senate for consideration.
The bills, sponsored by Sen. Celestino White Sr., would approve these 10-year franchise agreements:
- V.I. Taxi Association at King Airport.
- St. Croix Taxicab Association at Rohlsen Airport.
- East End Taxi Association at Fredericks Marine Terminal in Red Hook.
- St. Thomas Taxi Association at Monsanto Marine Terminal in Crown Bay.
White, who is vice-chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, Energy and Veterans Affairs, sat as chairman for the portion of Wednesday's meeting in which the bills were discussed.
Ultimately, the four senators who were present voted to forward the bills straight to the full Senate for consideration, thereby bypassing a hearing in the Rules Committee entirely, which is typically the next step in the committee process.
The four senators - White, Committee Chairwoman Alicia Hansen, Janette Millin Young and Terrence Nelson - all voted in favor. Senators Ronald Russell, Usie Richards and Alvin Williams Jr. were absent for the vote.
Members of the St. Croix Taxicab Association, V.I. Taxi Association and East End Taxi Association spoke in favor of the legislation at the hearing. The St. Thomas Taxi Association did not appear, but testifiers suggested it may have been because of inter-island flight difficulties.
Testifiers spoke of their association members as small business owners and said the franchises offer the associations the ability to closely monitor how services are being rendered and to deal quickly with any situations that may arise.
Although no representatives of the U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Association testified, the association sent a letter opposing the bills, and the V.I. Tourism Department also wrote a letter raising strong concerns about the bills.
"We believe the only way to ensure satisfactory, competitive transportation options to our visitors is by offering multiple agreements that incorporate measurable quality standards not exclusive franchises," the Hotel and Tourism Association letter states.
The Tourism Department letter contends that the territory has lagged behind other destinations in establishing standards for affordable and reliable transportation and high customer service, and that "the lack of competition that these types of agreements create contributes to the acceptance of low standards."
The letter also raises eight different issues, including the Tourism Department's contention that "the proposal should not be an 'exclusive' agreement that eliminates other qualified parties without a vetting process."
The bills call for the V.I. Port Authority and the franchisees to negotiate the sum that will be paid for the franchise within 60 days of the enactment of the law, and if no agreement can be reached, to go to an arbitrator who will determine the initial amount the franchisee will pay.
In an interview earlier this week, White told The Daily News that the taxi associations have had franchise agreements for the two airports and the Red Hook ferry terminal for decades, but they have since expired.
"These entities have been operating at these locations for well over 40 years," White said. "I want it to continue."
He said he wants to ensure that the taxi associations have some stability before he leaves office in January.
"They were all granted through legislation long before I was in the Senate," White said.
- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email email@example.com.