By Carlena Knight
With the first commercial flight landing at VC Bird International Airport tonight, members of the United Taxi Association (UTA) are adamant that unless their concerns are addressed in a meeting today with tourism and the airport officials, the “house may be very quiet”.
UTA president Ian Joseph said the biggest issue plaguing his members is the low fares they are expected to work for during this first phase of the reopening of the tourism sector, which was forced to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In this first phase, there will be no economic benefit for us. We are just members who are going to play our role in opening the country to expose our families, to expose ourselves, to get up to meet the flight at 11 at night and be on the road till 2 or 3 in the morning.
“Today is Wednesday and the flight comes in tomorrow and we don’t even know when we are getting the passes to be on the road so as we go along things are just falling by the wayside,” he told Observer AM.
“We have asked for only one thing — to just make a little adjustment — because I cannot and will not have the members coming to the airport at 11 to take four people anywhere for five US dollars. We asked for an adjustment in the fares and I did include the National Taxi Association in that discussion because they will have to be bringing these people back to the airport.
“We had some sort of agreement that would have been looked at two weeks ago and so what they say, the night before Christmas all through the house not a creature was stirring? Well we are just waiting patiently. I am invited to a meeting tomorrow (Thursday) again to sort this thing out and if we are not happy campers the house may be very quiet,” said Joseph.
Joseph revealed that for a long period he has been calming his members who are frustrated over the lack of support and “level of disrespect” from not only the government, but other entities, prior to and during Covid-19.
He is adamant that he will not be going against the voices of his members as for years they have apparently been getting the runaround in addressing this issue and others, despite the efforts of Prime Minister Gaston Browne who Joseph said was the only official to truly show interest.
He stated that no longer would the tourism ambassadors be accepting this sort of treatment from members of the public as they contribute to the growth of the country.
“The cost of a vehicle 15 years ago to now has doubled [but] our fares remain the same. The cost of fuel, the cost of operating alone has skyrocketed. For this first phase, we cannot even tell you how many people will be on these flights and there’s only a few hotel properties that will be open and with all the restrictions there isn’t any immediate benefit.”
Education officer within the UTA, Neil Evanson, shared sentiments similar to Joseph’s but went a step further to suggest that concessions could be offered to offset some of the costs to drivers. His suggestion stems from an estimate given by Emelda Frank, the protocols officer, who assessed the cost for each driver during this pandemic while adhering to the various health guidelines.
According to Frank, drivers may see costs up or beyond $250 monthly, which would entail the purchasing of hand sanitisers, cleaning products, and gas.
Drivers will be required to sanitise their vehicles after every trip and are only allowed a maximum of six passengers per trip unless they are transporting a family. The seat directly behind the drivers will be cleared and windows will also be opened. Temperatures of every driver will be checked upon arrival to the airport and money, according to Frank, will be sanitised as well.
The protocols officer added that although she was not in favour of the airport’s reopening, they have implemented several measures to keep not only their members, but also the country, safe. She is now however asking for the same effort to be given to the taxi drivers “as they cannot do this on the fares they are paid”.