Tourist transport initiative aims to regulate the taxi and rental services sector

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Minister of Tourism, Dr Ernest Hilaire

Measures are being put in place to respond to the “essential role” that the tourist transport sector plays in providing services to the many visitors to the destination.

Recently, Ministry of Tourism staff and other hospitality industry stakeholders provided an update on the Tourism Transport Transition Initiative regarding the absorption of existing H plate operators into the formal TX system and the lifting of the moratorium on the issuance of TX-plates.

At the time, it was felt that the taxi business, referred to as “tourism transport service providers”, had become a bit “uncomfortable” and was seen as a “dysfunctional industry”. In addition, the sector was plagued with several people plying their trade informally, with little clarity as to the roles and functions required of ‘taxi drivers’.

Tourism Minister Dr Ernest Hilaire noted that it took around 15 years to access the information needed to undertake this critical process. Amid many consultations, disagreements and distractions, he said, and after extensive consultation with different stakeholders, such as the transport commission, taxi associations, taxi drivers and independent taxi drivers, the police and several other entities, this resulted in “a revision of the provision that once existed for the management and maintenance of the tourist transport sector”.

“Since the moratorium was put in place, a lot of things have changed and now you have online reservations. You basically have online commerce as a core feature,” Dr Hilaire told reporters during a recent briefing.

He said the problem now involves dealing with taxi drivers at the stands, drivers who dock at the respective entry points “but now you have people booking online and waiting for pick-ups at airports”.

Hilaire noted that such an arrangement creates problems between registered taxi operators/companies and people seeking to profit from online bookings.

The minister said “the whole landscape has changed” and with the introduction of Huber there is an online taxi service where people can book a taxi service online.

He said that while Saint Lucia does not provide a fully functional Huber service here, there are people who arrange for taxis to pick them up at various locations.

“A lot has changed and we were able to respond to those changes and come up with an approach that we believe would streamline taxi service,” Hilaire added. “We can’t go on like this…we’ve done a lot of work and I have to commend the Ministry of Tourism staff who have worked very hard on this initiative and to get to where we are today.”

He also acknowledged the support of the transport board and the Royal Saint Lucia Police [RSLPF]because they are basically in charge of enforcing “what we have agreed on, so they will end up being the most critical partners”.

Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Tourism, Ann-Marguerite Adams explained the strategies to be implemented and “legislative application”.

Adams said the department undertook the initiative “guided by cabinet policy,” with a three-pronged approach.

She explained: “There is a ban on using H plates to render taxi service…so anyone who is going to offer taxi services must have the designated plate and that plate is a TX plate.”

The ministry official added, “The vehicle must be registered with a TX plate and the person driving this vehicle must have the required TX plate.

“And second, the transition program will not only affect our taxi operations, but also car rental services.

As part of this transition, the department also plans to review the operations of the car rental sector “so they will also have the designated plate, which I assumed was the R and which is in line with the provisions of the existing legislation”.

Adams said that since the moratorium was lifted, people have the option to register for a required plate.

Therefore, the transportation commission and other related agencies will now consider applications for taxi service to operate in the area. She added: ‘Whereas in the past…new entrants would not be considered, now that the moratorium has been lifted it would allow ministries to review permit applications.’

Adams said as the department adopts this new strategy, it will deal with new people entering the sector. However, she stressed, the process would be determined by a “demand study” which will determine capacity and growth issues, and how “in the future, licensing will be done more empirically to inform decision-making on the issuance of permits”. .”

The transition period targets people holding H plates and providing taxi services, as well as individuals providing car rental services. While the Ministry of Tourism will monitor those providing services in the taxi sector, the Ministry of Transport will focus on the transition with H and R plates.

The ministry official explained that the first phase, which will run from November 1 to March 30, 2023, will specifically deal with the transition of existing operators who hold H plates and also TX operators who also have H plates.

The second phase is intended for new entrants and will cover a period from May to September 2023 “and it will be determined by the study of demand”.

Hilaire asserted that “taxi drivers can really improve the quality of the product and the reputation of Saint Lucia as a destination”, and therefore, the study of demand will be really critical in deciding the number of people allowed to enter. in the area.

In addition to the study of the request, specified the Minister, the accent must also be placed on the quality of the service provided. “And so, under the new Tourism Development Act which will be brought home very soon, we will require all parts of the tourism sector to be certified. And to be certified, there are agreed standards that these service providers must meet…same with the taxi driver.

Including keeping vehicles nicely maintained and training taxi drivers, Hilaire said, there will also be several elements “to make sure that we not only have the capacity in numbers, but we also have the quality to ensure that the product is one that is of a certain standard.

When it comes to solicitation and other illegal activities involving visitors, Adams said, the main issue to be addressed during this transition is the area of ​​enforcement. She admitted the department is aware of many solicitations by unauthorized drivers and will introduce a ‘decal system’ to address the issue.

She explained that the Decal system “is intended to help police more effectively enforce (regulatory) activities within the industry so that those people providing services are differentiated from your existing drivers.”

What is the role of the police in this transition to provide efficient transport services to the visitor?

Deputy Superintendent of Police (ASP) Charlotte Thomas said essentially the role of the police is law enforcement.

“The first act of enforcement is education,” said ASP Thomas. ‘I implore people to read the law…there are offenses relating to public taxis and omnibuses and those offenses regarding the use of the license and the operation of a taxi without a taxi licence.’

Law enforcement has also been mandated to crack down on illegal trade involving “pirates”, those people involved in unauthorized visits with visitors, the senior officer said.

A traffic control team has been established within the RSLPF traffic department to better coordinate movement on the ground. ASP Thomas explained: “We have them on cruise days where they will be watching the various sights. They will not only monitor traffic violations, but also the safety of tourists. »

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