V.I. entities butt heads over taxi driver tests
Published: September 4, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - A jurisdictional battle between the V.I. Tax Cab Commission and the V.I. Motor Vehicles Bureau has opened up over whether or not the taxi operator's license test should be administered in languages other than English.
After finding that an increasing number of applicants were successfully passing the test without being able to read, write or, in some cases, speak English, Taxi Cab Commissioner Judith Wheatley, at the behest of the commission, called for a moratorium in July on the administration of the class C license test at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Wheatley said she is waiting for a legal opinion from V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer on the matter. The opinion should clearly establish which governmental entity can set and execute policy around the administration of taxi operator's tests, she said.
Wheatley said the commission frequently receives complaints about drivers who, because of an inability to speak English, are ill-equipped to serve the population.
"We have found that there are some who cannot speak any English at all. The language in the territory is English, and it is quite difficult for tourists and residents alike to communicate with an automobile for hire operator who does not speak English," Wheatley said. "It is also becoming a challenge for enforcement. I think they should at least be able to read and write. If you can't read and write, how are you going to know what the rules and regulations are, what the tariffs are?"
Jerris Browne, director of the Motor Vehicles Bureau, insisted that the bureau is following the letter of the law, as both federal and local anti-discrimination legislation stipulate that non-English speakers have to be accommodated through the use of interpreters.
If the Taxi Cab Commission wishes to weed out non-English speakers or persons who are illiterate, they could do so at the time a person applies to the commission to become an operator, which would be before they come to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to take the operator's test, Browne said.
Wheatley said that all prior paperwork has to be filled out in English but that the commission has no way to determine whether an applicant actually fills out the forms on their own or has help from someone fluent in the language.
Winston Parker, president of the V.I. Taxi Association, which represents about 600 drivers, said the moratorium unfairly blocks residents and English-speakers from entering the business of driving a taxi.
"Why you put a freeze on the licenses and you would not give it to the people who are born here? They speak English. Their families live here. What is the hold-up for them?" Parker said. "It really gets me annoyed to know that we have good people around here who cannot get a job, and why are we stopping them? It's not just a right to get a license; it's their daily bread."
According to Parker, taxi drivers do not need to speak English. Tourists attracted to the islands come from all over the world and speak different languages, so it is not the case that non-English speaking drivers cannot serve the public well.
"We have all languages coming in on these cruise ships and through the airports, and the taxi drivers, they need to service them, too," Parker said.
Wheatley said she expects the attorney general to return an opinion before December.
The impact of the moratorium on the market for taxi medallions - ownership of a medallion is a prerequisite for operating a taxi in the Virgin Islands, and the supply of new medallions and sale of existing medallions are regulated by the commission, with quotas set by law - would be negligible, Wheatley said.
"I am assuming it will come back before December. It has been in effect for two months. It is not a crisis," Wheatley said of the moratorium.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.