FRIDAY, NOV. 23: Taxi drivers and their families must surely have sucked their teeth when they learned of Government’s recent pledge not to make GPS mandatory “for now”.

Yes, the Government that claims to be standing strong for seniors is once again making pre-election promises to our taxi owners, the vast majority of whom are seniors.

I first wrote about this subject way back in 2002, and my belief is that the problem then is the same as it is now — the Government doesn’t care enough to carry out an industry analysis of the taxi industry. It simply wants GPS.

But let’s start back at December 2000, which is when BIU President Derrick Burgess first called a meeting for taxi operators to discuss the proposed Central Dispatch Service:

He said: “Bermuda has a severe problem within the taxi industry. Residents and guests find it difficult to catch a taxi when needed and virtually impossible to get a cab at peak periods.’’

Mr Burgess said that after numerous meetings with various stakeholders within the taxi industry as well as Government,  it was resolved that the solution was the establishment of a Central Dispatch Service, and although such a service will not be publicly owned, he said it would certainly be accountable  and answerable to Government.

Mr. Burgess continued: “A Central Dispatch Service means that owners and operators will be effectively monitored to ensure that they live up to their obligation of legitimately operating their vehicle for the mandatory 16 hour minimum in accordance with the Motor Taxi Regulations 1987”.

I wonder if Burgess would be willing to drive a cab for 16 hours? ...but I digress! By June of 2002, legislation was brought before the Lower House, much to the frustration of drivers.

While I’m sure that to some degree drivers resisted computerized technology, no one wants to be forced to use one dispatch company, nor be forced to invest in a product when the Government hasn’t adequately researched the benefits of it.  Perhaps this is why the PLP couldn’t get unanimous support from their own MPs for GPS.

The Bill passed through the Lower House, but was defeated in the Senate in July. All this meant was that Dr Brown could reintroduce the Bill in a year’s time when it could be passed unopposed.

Until that time, Rolfe Commissiong (a shareholder of Advanced Tech Solutions, which was set up as the vendor of computerised dispatching technology) declared the following in the wake of the Bill’s defeat:

“…You will find that the current regime which is going to be strictly enforced is going to reveal the gross inadequacies of the current business model as it relates to the dispatch companies and the fleet itself.”

Additionally, even though the legislation had been defeated in the Upper House, Bermuda Central Dispatching Corporation was still confident enough in GPS’s future that they still intended to proceed with setting up their GPS business.

Computerised  dispatching for taxis is on its way — but not as soon as hoped, said Gladwyn Bean, president of the Bermuda Central Dispatching Corporation (BCDC).

In June, shortly after the Senate vetoed a bill which would have forced the taxi industry to adopt the technology, Mr Bean announced that the company would be up and running within three months.

BCDC will be purchasing its system from Advanced Tech Solutions, a local company headed by George Scott. The system will not include the satellite-based  tracking software, known as GPS, which allows the dispatcher to know the exact location of each car and is strongly resisted by taxi industry representatives.

Thus the stage was set, and here’s where things get complicated. Although the Government would have been able to bring their Bill back to the house in July of 2003, the timing clashed with the 2003 General Election.  As such, the Government refused to comment on whether or not they’d push forward with GPS if they got re-elected. Six months after, they betrayed drivers and pushed forward with their plans to implement GPS.

As expected, taxi owners fought back any way they could before the law was passed in 2005. And even though the BTOA pledged to work with the Government on a way forward, the following year Government rewarded taxi drivers by permitting mini-buses to compete directly with them. Yes, taxi drivers were betrayed yet again, and they have fought GPS ever since.

Now fast forward to 2012. The players are all different, but of course GPS dispatch companies still love the idea of being guaranteed consistent revenue whether air arrivals are up or down.

And here lies the heart of the matter. In 2000, air arrivals totalled 328,305. In 2010, air arrivals totaled 232,262. We still have 600 licensed taxis, and we now have the addition of mini-buses.  With 100,000 fewer tourist arrivals, if you cannot get a taxi in a timely fashion, our transport challenges are obviously much bigger than GPS. 

The real solution won’t be found without in-depth business analysis, which is what the PLP has failed to do from the very start. So now I must ask drivers, are you still willing to vote for a party to only be betrayed once again?

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