Government

Draft Bill for Taxicab Industry Reform Delayed for Further Review and Amendments

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Recent efforts to overhaul the Taxicab Commission in the U.S. Virgin Islands have hit a temporary pause, following detailed discussions among key industry players. Last week, a pivotal meeting brought together taxicab operators and officials from all three islands, spearheaded by Senator Donna Frett-Gregory. The aim was to address the ongoing operational challenges plaguing the Commission, which have been a source of concern in the taxi sector for more than a year.

At this gathering, Senator Frett-Gregory introduced a proposed bill aimed at restructuring the Commission. The bill envisages the creation of a new Division of Transportation and Taxicab Services within the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs. This division would inherit the current responsibilities of the Taxicab Commission, overseeing the administrative aspects of the taxi industry. Additionally, an Advisory Council comprising medallion owners, non-medallion owners, and public members would be established to recommend fees, formulate regulations, and suggest legislative modifications.

Governor Albert Bryan has expressed his support for this legislative initiative, emphasizing the need for comprehensive reform in taxi operations and broader industry regulations, including those for tour operators. “This legislation was really to cure the challenges that we’re having,” Senator Frett-Gregory noted in response to queries from Consortium journalists.

However, during a Senate Committee session on November 21, chaired by Senator Carla Joseph, it was revealed that the draft bill was withdrawn from the agenda. This decision, influenced by the “very robust discussion” at the stakeholder meeting, was made to allow for additional dialogue and amendments.

Senator Frett-Gregory acknowledged concerns raised by taxi operators, particularly from St. John, regarding the proposed transition back under the DLCA’s control. These apprehensions were rooted in a past audit that highlighted inadequate cash collection and management practices. However, she pointed out that the implementation of the ERP system by the Department of Finance has significantly improved payment processes, replacing manual receipts with automated ones.

Despite these advancements, broader issues persist, necessitating a more comprehensive examination. Frett-Gregory underscored the importance of “fairness and accountability” in the industry. She cited disparities, such as taxi operators needing a separate medallion for each vehicle, in contrast to limousine services operating multiple vehicles under a single license. “This requires a thorough analysis by a dedicated committee like the proposed advisory board to determine the optimal path forward for the industry,” she stated.

While the bill undergoes further refinement, the current Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission (VITCC) continues to face criticism from both the taxicab community and government officials. Senator Ray Fonseca, who also attended the stakeholder meeting, voiced his conviction that the existing Commission is falling short in addressing its myriad issues, thus failing to adequately serve the transportation and taxi industry.

The legislative team is actively working on the bill, anticipating its future presentation on the Senate floor, while continuing to address the concerns and needs of the taxicab community.

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