Port Authority puts in place rules for Cruz Bay taxis

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ST. THOMAS - The rules have changed for pick-ups and drop-offs of visitors just getting off the ferry and stepping onto St. John.

Starting this week, taxi drivers are taking turns using the parking lot that greets visitors once they arrive at the dock in Cruz Bay.

Previously, the parking lot had been controlled by the St. John Taxi Association, though it now is in the hands of the V.I. Port Authority.

Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe laid out the new rules for taxi drivers on Friday, though the rules did not go into effect until Sunday. He could not be reached Monday for comment.

"It's going excellent," said one taxi driver, Spencer Joseph.

All 162 drivers who have taxi medallions, or permits from the V.I. Taxicab Commission, now are entitled to the use of the 13 parking spaces in the lot.

However, it is not a free-for-all.

The spaces are to be used by 40 drivers daily, and those 40 drivers only. Of the pool of 162 drivers, all of them will have their day during a four-day rotation. All drivers who use the spaces will be required to pay $10 daily for unlimited parking, pick-up and drop-off from 6 a.m. to midnight.

When the rotation ends, it will begin again the next day. Because only 13 spaces are available at the main lot, the Port Authority will provide excess parking at Enighed Pond nearby.

The 40 drivers will share the spaces.

The hope is that the Port Authority's management of the property will reduce the conflicts between drivers, primarily those who are members of the St. John Taxi Association, which formed in 2002, and non-member drivers.

"St. John Taxi Association is still St. John Taxi Association. They just don't have their monopoly anymore," said Judith Wheatley, executive director of the V.I. Taxicab Commission.

The St. John Taxi Association repeatedly was told to vacate the property since 2003, when its lease with the V.I. Property and Procurement Department expired.

A part of the problem was that the association was not paying its monthly $400 payments to the department.

The Property and Procurement Department told the association to vacate initially in 2011, though the department did not enforce its request. It made the same request in August, demanding that the association vacate the property by the end of September.

The association failed to vacate the property, according to a letter from Gov. John deJongh Jr., until a V.I. Superior Court order required the association's departure from the property earlier this month.

The association had more than two dozen members who paid membership fees to the association, $10 monthly. Members also paid $5 daily to the association, and non-members paid $8 daily, to pick up and drop off visitors.

However, non-members, such as Joseph, felt that they were being treated unfairly.

"It's night and day. No harassment. No bad language. They should have done this a long time ago," Joseph said. "I feel content."

Not everyone is happy about the new rules.

Some of the local villa owners were upset to hear that they were no longer allowed to greet their guests at the dock. Instead, the Port Authority is expected to find a place near the dock for them to wait while a "dispatcher" greets guests and takes them to their hosts.

The "dispatcher" is a new position created by the Port Authority, Wheatley said, though she did not know how much the position paid or who was hired during the weekend.

"We think it's terribly unfair," said Bob Malarcane, who helps manage Star Villas, owned by his wife. "The taxi owners can do whatever. We're upset."

Villa owners also were surprised to find out that they too will have to pay $10 to pick up or drop off their guests, though they will not be allowed to use the parking spaces.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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