A controversy is brewing between the Ministry of Tourism in Grand Bahama and allegedly, members of the island’s taxi drivers fraternity.
The issue stems from the transporting of visiting tourists to the New Year’s Junkanoo downtown, Freeport on January 1.
Taxi driver for 27 years, Anthony Fox made a complaint to The Freeport News. He disclosed the challenges he allegedly experienced regarding the GB Ministry of Tourism providing free transportation for tourists.
Fox charged that Tourism representatives chose certain bus drivers to transport tourists from their hotel(s) to the 2019 New Year’s Junkanoo parade.
“Taxi Drivers who work around the hotels do not make a good living because the country has been depressed.
“Christmas came around, bringing a few guests in the hotel, and here comes the Ministry of Tourism, all of a sudden providing the guests with free transportation to Junkanoo.
“Taxi Drivers were piled up around the hotel, explained Fox “hoping to get fares to go to Junkanoo and we got really disappointed.”
“Each of the sixty seater buses was so full they had to make two trips. So if you calculate five dollars per person, you can only imagine the amount of money they have deprived us of.
“We are struggling, so why take our money, when all these taxi drivers could go and make a substantial living for that one day, to start off their New Year.
“This is a brand New Year, and this is how they start it off with a bunch of crazy things.
“I pay tax, but this is not what I want the government to do with my money. I do not want them to take from me, when I could’ve had an opportunity on the first day to make some income.
“I am concerned about a lot of the things that affect the taxi business in terms of regulations, and I don’t think the people that regulate taxis, realize it is regulated by the law.
“The executives only look out for themselves, and they don’t look out for nobody else, because they have a lot of positions that are not paid positions. With that being said, they pay themselves on the expense of taxi drivers, and the Road Traffic Officers shut their eyes, it seems,” he said.
Fox accused the various government sectors that deal with the taxi union of not being disciplined.
“It seems as though everybody wants to do what they want to do, and there is no discipline.
“You have an organization that is called the union, that is not even a legalize union.
“But when you have people who work and own these private charter and tour companies, these departments chose to keep those persons happy, while the average Bahamian suffers.
“It is like they develop a mentality, of the ones who are black and poor, let’s keep them black people poor.
“The tax payers have to pay for those buses, so why don’t government take their time and effort to pick up people from West End, Eight Mile Rock, Pinder’s Point, and Lewis Yard and give them a free ride to Junkanoo.
“Why don’t they do that for a change, rather than locals having to catch public bus?”
“Where is the Road Traffic Controller, and the Road Traffic Department in all of this.
“Private charters do not have the rights to do what they are doing, but the Ministry of Tourism believes they are above anybody when it comes to Public Transportation.
“What kind of a government do we have in this country. They are just stagnating the people, and stagnating the growth of the country.
“The ministry (Tourism) would provide free transportation for tourists year after year during the summer for Goombay, and I don’t know how we can build a country by continuously doing that.
“Before the general election, the government gave the taxi drivers in Nassau an increase in taxi fare, Grand Bahama has not achieved that yet.
“I don’t believe in this politics thing, and I don’t play that because there is a place and time for that, but how can Grand Bahama make any progress?”
The problems that are occurring, and said it is stemming from the Government, and not the Private Sectors.
“Check the Government out, they are the perpetrators for violating citizens, but that is what you get in Democracy.
“The constitution said you have rights for redress, but they didn’t tell you that you need money to approach the court.
“But how many of us can find money to approach the court, and that is why they treat us like we are nobody.
“Corruption has not only stem from Ministers taking bribe, but check out every Government department on Grand Bahama or the Bahamas. –they are corrupted” continued Fox.
“I challenge anyone to deny the fact that once you don’t carry out your law, that is corruption. If we say we are a country of law, let us enforce the law on everyone, and not a selective few.
“Taxi Drivers are employers, not employees, and a Union are made up of employees.
“We are all regulated by law.
Fox who reiterated Ministry of Tourism should “reevaluate themselves and their duties said “Ministry of Tourism need to catch themselves, and rethink some of the things they are doing, because they are not the regulators of Public Transportation.”
“We are the ones who have to spend money to the food store, we have to spend money on our light and water bill, and we have to go the gas station.
“If they (tourists) want to patronize our natural heritage event, I don’t see anything wrong with them paying to go there.
“I am a Bahamian, and I have nowhere to go, I am not a foreigner and nobody can keep me silent because I am not looking for favors from nobody.
“I am looking for equality and equal rights for every taxi driver, and every Bahamian in this country,” said Fox.
President of the Taxi Union Hall, Harold Curry commented to this news daily about the situation and acknowledged that the drivers was very upset about the New Year’s incident.
“There were various drivers waiting at various hotels to take people to Junkanoo and they got upset because the tour buses came in and took all the people.
“Ministry of Tourism did not contact me, or discuss the decision to transport tourism to the parade free of charge.
“The drivers called me, and I called Rena Symonette, Senior Manager, Product Development, Ministry of Tourism and she seemed to be unaware of it herself.
Curry said Symonette was trying to contact Mr. Bootle from Road Traffic.
“One thing I do know is, the incident was wrong, and it should’ve not happen.
“Some of these buses are all over the place making money. They are receiving passengers from GB Shipyard, from the Harbor and now Junkanoo.This is terrible”.
The Taxi Union President said moving forward he will try his best to avoid incidents that can affect taxi income and will work very hard for employed people.
“This is a New Year, and this is not going to happen again or else we will start shutting them down.
“It really seems as though everything falls on deaf ears, and nobody wants to uphold the law.
“Those buses should not be doing that because those persons are put together as groups and then they transport them.
“The big buses are really designed to transport big groups like church or basketball groups, not to shut down taxis,” concluded Curry.
However, on Sunday, January 6, Ministry of Tourism, Director, Karen Seymour contacted The Freeport News and countered much of the criticisms.
“During New Year’s Eve, we provided two bus movements from S & D Coach tours for tourists on the island, but it was not at our (Ministry of Tourism) request.
“I understand that everyone is having a hard time about this, but I was off the island and could not address this situation then.
“Like I said, we got the inquiry from the hotel(s), asking if we could provide them transportation to the festival. So we responded ‘okay’, ‘fine’, but that it would be limited and the balance of the tourists could take taxis into town.
“On the way back, we had one movement back, so there was more than enough business for all transportation companies.
“The focus was more on getting the ball rolling and to get people excited about going to the festival. This was put on. This was not anything we broadcasted widely. This was something that was decided New Year’s Eve. There was no fight intended and no malice.
“It was more of a convenience, because if we left it all for the taxi movements, they would’ve gotten their share of tourists, but the process would’ve taken longer and all this did was get the ball rolling.
“The taxi drivers did make money. There were tons of tourists out there. Between two of the hotels, the only thing we did was put tourists on two 50-seaters, and that was it.
“I got phone calls from two of the hotels,” she emphasized.
Seymour expressed that although Ministry of Tourism primary focus is Tourism, the department does care about the local taxi drivers.
“We care about the taxi drivers, and absolutely the aim was not to take bread out of their mouths or lock them out of business.
“Fortunately, the hotels were full and if we were picking up 25 people from three hotel, there was no way the Ministry of Tourism would’ve been able to move all of the visitors unless we put them on numerous of buses...which we deliberately did not do with the view to ensuring the taxi drivers got a fair share of the business,” she concluded.