by Eulana Weekes
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): A meeting held to discuss draft policies that would guide the daily operations of Tour and Taxi Operators at Port Zante in the upcoming Tourism season has left some members of the various Taxi and Tour Associations up in arms.
The meeting, which was held at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort on July 18, brought together representatives from the various associations to give their feedback on the proposed draft policies which include a passenger tax.
President of the St. Kitts Taxi Association, Sylvester ‘Socrates’ Hodge, who hosted Friday’s (Jul. 21) edition of ‘Voices’ shared a few of the proposed policies that were not very well received by the group.
“Some of the policies were laid out. One that caused some ants was the control of the traffic on the ports. What they’re saying [is] when you arrive in the morning, you’ll be given a ticket. Upon inspection of your vehicle, you would be issued a ticket and upon leaving the port with the job, you must present that ticket. It may be punched or whatever the method, but that determines that you would have been given a job from the dispatching point. The challenge with that is, I would say about 80% of those who operate at Port Zante, do not go to the dispatching point to get a job. They solicit the work in an open area; and so, that creates a challenge. “How do you present the tickets to security or whomever for the Tourism Authority when you’re leaving the port, when you didn’t get the job through the dispatching point?” It was said that it could be embarrassing if you show up at that point to exit and you don’t have that ticket, [because] the passengers will be removed from your vehicle.”
Some of the callers to the programme, who are Taxi operators, expressed their dissatisfaction with the proposal, with one lamenting that operators will likely lose their independence if the policies are implemented.
“This meeting that took place over Marriott a few days ago with the Minister of Tourism, with what she has tried to push on Taxi operators, Taxi operators need to rise up right now and speak out concerning what was discussed in that meeting. It seems as though the Minister of Tourism wants to control Taxi operators like we work for them. We do not work for them. We are independent people. The next thing that really hurt me the most [was] when they say that one cannot leave Port Zante with a job if it is not dispatched by the SKN Team and have a ticket. They will take [passengers] out of their buses. They are looking for a suit. That is a serious suit. So Tourism got money to give away. I want to educate Taxi operators that they cannot do anything like that.”
On the discussion of taxes based on revenue, Socrates said, once the idea is implemented, the ticket presented at the dispatching point will be one of the ways to determine how much money is made.
“The other thing [is] about the $1.50 per head. That was discussed some years ago. What they’re saying is that I think it was the tour company who was supposed to pay for it. I am not sure, but I’m just saying, it creates an unfair situation where some have to pay and some [do] not. So, they’re looking to implement some form of taxation. They have to come to a figure. They have not decided. We had folks there from the Inland Revenue and the Finance Department and they wanted to get feedback from the majority of people who should have been there. So what they are suggesting is that maybe at the start of the season, or maybe once, twice or three times per year, whatever the schedule, that we pay a certain amount of tax,” explained Socrates.
The caller publicly requested a meeting with fellow taxi operators and also encouraged them to consider sourcing a lawyer to represent the group, as he believes that the matter surrounding the policies will be brought before the court.
“How much more do they want us to pay for? We just went through COVID and Tourism has not looked upon any taxi operator. People’s buses have been taken away from them. We have been struggling. People think Taxi man [is] making hell and the devil out there; and now, the Minister of Tourism wants to come [and] pressure us, that we cannot even leave Port Zante with a job unless we get a paper from them?”
According to Socrates, there are about 300 Taxi and Tour operators in St. Kitts but there were just about 70 operators in attendance at the meeting. However, he hinted that another meeting between the Taxi Associations’ Presidents and the Minister of Tourism is likely and that the general members of the Taxi Associations could expect another consultation, to make their input to the final draft of the policies.
Hon. Marsha Henderson, Minister of Tourism alluded to the consultations at the Prime Minister’s Press Conference, noting that upon conclusion the stakeholders will be engaged in training ahead of the new cruise season.