by Eulana Weekes
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Scrutiny ramped up in recent days about the illegal practices of Uber Services in St. Kitts and Nevis, which have grown into a popular transport choice for people from all fractions of society.
During the Voices Programme on July 21, President of the St. Kitts Taxi Association Sylvester ‘Socrates’ Hodge alluded to a consultation between the Ministry of Tourism and Taxi and Tour operators on July 18, where operators explained that Uber Services are competing greatly with Taxi Services.
“Another point that was raised was the issue of Uber, that operation. It was stated that their insurance does not cover any passenger who is injured. They should not; they do not have the classification for public transport. All public transport vehicles have a certain classification. We pay our requisite taxes. We have the proper licensings. These other vehicles do not have that. So by whatever fluke, they were able to get operational before. There are persons who willingly use their personal vehicle and say they’re Uber. We were given the assurance by the Tourism Authority that- that will be addressed, even to the point where the attorney General will have to deal with it. We’ve asked over the years, “Why? How?” Somebody called me and told me that it’s a good thing…but no, “You’re undercutting the Taxi drivers trade,” said Socrates on ‘Voices’- (Friday, July 21).
Deputy Commissioner of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force, Mr Cromwell Henry, told WINN FM that Uber drivers are conducting an illegal service, which is risky, not only to the drivers but to individuals who solicit those services.
“Our traffic laws require vehicles that are transporting passengers for hire or reward to be registered as a public service vehicle. Currently, we have three or four classes of public service vehicles. We have the omnibuses, which carry an ‘H’ plate, we have the Taxis, which carry a ‘T’ registration. There are guided tours that we call ‘GT’. Those carry a ‘GT’ registration, and of course, there is rental; those carry an ‘R’ plate. They are, in fact, public service vehicles, except that they are driven by the hirer instead of being driven by a chauffeur. So there are four classes of public service vehicles that are recognised and are registered to carry passengers for hire or reward. The insurance on these vehicles would also be covering the passengers because it [was] established that- that is the purpose of the vehicle. Any other [vehicles] that are carrying passengers for hire or reward are doing so illegally and are putting their passengers at risk because the insurance would not cover such vehicles or passengers in the event of an accident and a claim is made. So the passengers themselves are at risk if they are injured, and the driver or the owner of the vehicle doesn’t have the means to compensate them for their injuries. The insurance, in most cases, will not cover them if they could establish that they were operating as a public service vehicle at the time of the accident. So that is the main risk that the persons are taking by driving without proper insurance coverage.”
There is a list of other risks that the Uber Service providers are taking, which includes operating without a business licence. Uber Services are not officially recognised in St. Kitts and Nevis, and on that basis, Henry said there are no grounds upon which an individual can obtain a Business licence for it.
He added, “From a layman’s perspective, I believe the Uber Service is a Trademark for a company in the US, and so that is a registered Trademark for a company, and so I don’t even know if they have permission to use the word Uber down here and that’s another problem that they do find themselves facing down here from the owner of the Uber brand,”
The Deputy Commissioner also stated that Uber drivers could easily be dragged into criminal matters, using the scenario that someone may steal something and call an Uber to pick him or her up. Not knowing what that individual did, the Uber driver would transport the individual as requested. If the police meet them on their journey or camera evidence shows that the thief was picked up by the Uber driver, then the driver will be pulled into the investigation. During the investigation, if the driver says, “I am only providing Uber services”, then there goes an additional problem, where the driver confirmed their engagement in an activity that is illegal based on the laws of the country.
Evidence is key in tackling the Uber matter, explained Henry, hinting that the community has a part to play in ensuring that- that illegal practise is stopped until such time that the state recognises it.
“From a police perspective, if we can get the evidence that you are carrying the passenger for hire or reward, then we could deal with it; but most times, the passenger would not admit that they’re paying. They would only admit if something happened and they want to make a claim… but in the absence of that, they wouldn’t usually admit to the police that they’re paying. They would just say, “My friend gave me a ride down the road,” but we know they are paying, but we just cannot do anything without the evidence.
What it would need is education, so that people know the risk that they’re taking and let the public know the risk that they’re exposed to and maybe for the authorities to come up with a way to regularise this type of service. If there’s room in the market for the service, then we should find a way to regularise and bring them on as mainstream business; but this taking a chance thing is not the best way because if something should go wrong, everybody would have regrets.”