It’s cheaper over there: A New Jersey cab *AFP photo
It’s cheaper over there: A New Jersey cab *AFP photo

Cabbies may be cheering a planned 25 per cent increase in taxi fares, but in the community, pressure appears to be mounting for a re-think.

Among those affected are nurses who work day and night shifts. They are “very upset” at the proposed rise in fares, according to registered nurse Beza Dagnachew, of Warwick: “Taxis are very expensive as it is, and so having that increase will be very costly for us,” she said.

“We use taxis a lot. Nurses who don’t have a car have to rely on the taxis to get home from work at night.  We usually work three day shifts, then three evening shifts in a row. So that’s at least three nights a week we have to use taxis, as there are no buses at that time. It all adds up.

“I usually finish my shift between 11 and 12 o’clock, and that’s when the fares go up (after 12am). There’s also an extra charge on the weekends.”

Mrs Dagnachew said: “Taxi fares here start at $4.15 before you even move, and go up if you are stuck in traffic. It’s not like the set fares you get over a distance in the US.

“So, having to have this 25 per cent increase is a blow to us (nurses)... The level of service is fine, it’s just the cost.”

She added that the fare increases would also hit patients: “If you are coming from Middle Road, there is only the number Eight bus and this route doesn’t come round the hospital — you have to get off at Crow Lane roundabout. 

“So there are patients who are unable to walk up the hill (Point Finger Road) to come to the hospital, and who have to get taxis. This will definitely affect patients too.”

Shawn Crockwell, Minister of Tourism Development and Transport, announced the fare increases last week as part of a series of amendments to the Motor Car Act 1951. He also said GPS (Global Positioning System) could become “optional”.

Under the previous PLP government, Dr Ewart Brown tried to enforce the use of GPS among taxi operators, to improve service and accountability.

But during the 2012 general election campaign, the OBA pledged to make it optional, saying drivers should have “freedom of choice”.

Mr Crockwell was unavailable for further comment yesterday.

Philip Barnett, president of Island Restaurant Group (IRG), said there were arguments both for and against GPS: “Taxis are supposed to be on the road for 16 hours a day but you’d probably be hard-pressed to find many who are on the roads for the 16 hours they are legislated to do,” he said. “But with GPS they (cabbies) do have some legitimate gripes. They can be in Spanish Point and because of GPS they are then called on to pick up someone from Dockyard.

“But they aren’t really the closest drivers, because of the stretch of water in between (the Great Sound). So there needs to be some programming in place, for the GPS system to recognize this.”

He added: “There are also several GPS systems out there, so a consistent product would make it easier for everyone.”

Mr Barnett added that there is some scepticism about an increase in fares: “The taxi industry as a whole needs to do more to give better service,” said Mr Barnett. "At the moment, unless you call a taxi driver you know, you’re probably not going to get someone too quickly.

“One of my family members has a taxi licence so I’m not blind to the industry’s difficulties...

Frustration

“But there’s some frustration in the industry at the moment about getting taxis called and delivered in a regular fashion, particularly from restaurants. We hear stories about guests in St George’s and Dockyard who will sit for an hour waiting for taxis to come. We have a huge event up in Dockyard this weekend (Oktoberfest) and we are hoping taxis are going to make calls up there, because there’s 300 people who will be there every night."

Mr Barnett added: “We all appreciate people getting paid when they give great service, but I still get people coming into restaurants complaining about the treatment they’ve had from some taxi drivers. Some will refuse to take them to a hotel or guesthouse at a short distance away, such as 10 minutes’ drive. The level of service customers feel they are getting is not in keeping with the 25 per cent increase, in my view.

“Having said that, there are some great and amazing taxi drivers out there who really go the extra mile. But they get frustrated too.”

Could an increase in taxi fares could encourage more people to drink-drive?

A Bermuda Police Service spokesman said yesterday: “There is unlikely to be a strong correlation between the price of taxi fares and an individual motorist’s decision to drive their vehicle whilst impaired. We have a very robust presence on the roads, and on a regular basis officers put persons before the courts for DWI (driving while intoxicated). 

Anthony Santucci, chairman of the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention (CADA), reminded the public that the charity operates a free taxi service every Saturday morning from 3:15am to 3:45am from outside the LOM building on Reid Street.

Derek Young, president of the Bermuda Taxi Owners/Operators Association, has defended the 25 per cent increase in fares as the first rise the industry will have received since 2008.

Taxi fares were last increased in December 2007, by 10.5 per cent. The previous rise was in 2004, at 20 per cent rise.

In the Cayman, cabbies last had an increase in 2007, with a $1 increase on the base taxi fare to $8 from $7, plus a 20 per cent increase on mileage (every tenth of a mile after 1.4 miles), to about 26 cents, plus a rise in hourly rates. The previous increase was in 2002. 

The Opposition in Bermuda this week asked Government to consider a fuel rebate in place of a fare increase.

The Royal Gazette reported that Lawrence Scott, Shadow Transport Minister, suggested a 25 per cent increase could even drive down demand for taxis, by acting as a disincentive to use them.