New rules unfair to St. John Taxi Association

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This is in response to a Dec. 3, 2013 Daily News report "Port Authority puts in Place Rules for Cruz Bay Taxis."

As a taxi driver I felt obliged to respond: Judith Wheatley, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission, stated that the St John Taxi Association was not paying its monthly rent of $400 to Property and Procurement. I would like to shed some light on this matter: The St. John Taxi Association had a month-to-month lease with Property and Procurement and a check was mailed to them on a monthly basis. In spite of that being done, there was always a late fee posted on the next check, a discrepancy no one from Property and Procurement was able to explain.

In order to alleviate the problem of late fees, the president of the association, under advisement by the members of the association, took on the task of delivering the check in person every month.

Secondly, I would like to address the issue of non-members being harassed and treated unfairly. Members and non-members alike are subjected to the same code of rules and regulations when utilizing the taxi stand. For example, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, a turkey or ham is given to all taxi men: members and non members.

However, there are some who find it really difficult to follow rules and regulations and so feel that once they have paid their dues, they can ignore the line-up system and go on as many tours as they like with little or no regard for the rest of their fellow taxi men.

Thirdly, Wheatley was hired as director of the Taxicab Association in 2007.

From that time up to present she has never made an attempt to meet with the Taxi Association and discuss plans for the betterment of the Taxi Industry.

What she has done is create hardship for the taxi drivers. Presently, taxi drivers who own safaris are not able to update their vehicles. A law was implemented that all safaris should have gates. It has proven very difficult to get improvements done to our taxis since we cannot take them to St Thomas without first informing her that we are doing so. Can you imagine that one of the taxis breaks down on a Friday after 5 p.m. and that he or she has to wait until 8 a.m. Monday to inform Wheatley first that they have to take their taxi down to St. Thomas for repairs?

Can you imagine that her penalties for non-compliance are much higher than the government's? The penalty for taking a vehicle over to St Thomas without first getting clearance is a $1,000 fine.

Where are our senators? Be informed, senators!

In 2007, when Wheatley was newly appointed, our request for a Taxicab Officer to be stationed on St John was refused, citing lack of manpower.

This we understood then. Later, Wheatley informed us that she hired an officer in the person of Aubrey Bridgewater specifically for St John. To date Bridgewater is not able to discharge his duties as Taxi Division Law Enforcement Officer.

On Nov. 29, Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe, at a meeting held at the St John Legislature building, handed all taxi drivers on St John a schedule of their working days effective Dec.1, 2013. According to this schedule I am entitled to work only seven days from the taxi stand for the month of December.

The labor laws of the Virgin Islands states that a full-time job consists of 40 hours a week, which equates five working days of 8 hours each; yet we are only given 7 days to work out of 31 days. Is anyone able to hear our cry?

I have been residing in the Virgin Islands for the last 27 years with a wife and two children: Is it possible for me or any of my fellow taxi men to survive legally on seven days of work over a period of one month?

Is this the only realistic solution to the problem? We are calling on our elected officials to give a listening ear to our cry. It is not just our problem. If not taken care of, it could become a community or national problem.

- Kenneth Louis, St. John Taxi Association member

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