by Carlena Knight
Threats of “shutting down the country” from the Public Transportation Union (PTU) have been put on the back burner for now, following a meeting with the relevant authorities over the issue of unlicensed taxi operators.
General Secretary of the PTU Gregory Athill gave an update to Observer yesterday afternoon after a meeting was held with the police’s Traffic Department and the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board (ABTB).
Earlier in the day, the body had hinted at a large-scale withdrawal of services which would likely have a significant impact on the country.
According to Athill, the meeting was a step in the right direction as the parties weighed in on proposed legislation to deal with private drivers bearing A, C and rental licence plates who transport customers under the guise of being taxi operators.
“What we are looking at now is that within another week — I think by this Thursday — Hubert Jarvis [ABTB’s General Manager] should be sending us a draft which we will all agree on,” he said.
“We actually had some input on it where we think that they should go through the same regulations as the taxi drivers. They need to do the training at the Hospitality Training Centre, they need to have proper vehicles. So it’s basically just putting the proper mechanisms in place so that they can operate.”
Athill however noted that his earlier warning of “shutting down the country” if the 1,000-strong PTU membership was to withhold services is not fully off the cards.
He explained that if it is apparent that there is any dragging of feet where the implementation and enforcement of this legislation is concerned, the umbrella body may take matters into its own hands.
Nevertheless, Athill is optimistic that the matter will be fully resolved.
He clarified that it is not the intention of the PTU to “take money out of anyone’s pockets”, but said a proper structure must be put in place.
Earlier on Tuesday, PTU Chairman Patrick Burnette said that they have no problem with organised businesses plying their trade once they are made to abide by certain regulations, but they take issue with private drivers whose vehicles bear A, C, and even rental plates who do not have to answer to the same rules.
Unlicensed taxi operators have long been a vexing issue for those in the public transportation sector, with many calling for laws to be passed to deal with the matter.
These talks were thrust to the forefront again recently after an apparently unlicensed taxi driver, 66-year-old Nicholas Andrew, allegedly attacked an American University of Antigua (AUA) medical student, Mahesh Indraganti, by hitting him repeatedly with a stick.
The incident has been making the rounds locally and even made regional news after a video recorded by Indraganti went viral.
The PTU has publicly condemned the matter and revealed that it has already received negative press as calls from international clientele have been rolling in.
The PTU’s Vice Chair, Ian Joseph, repeated that same point again on Tuesday.
The body further encouraged all individuals desirous of joining the taxi trade to become properly licensed and to take advantage of all available training.