Friday, 07 September 2012 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua St. John’s - Despite a war of words between Chairman of the St. John’s Development Corporation (SJDC) and president of the Antigua Taxi Association about whether it is just or logical to have all taxis queued and controlled in the city during cruise ship days, the former is still pressing forward with plans to regulate the system.
On Wednesday Cabinet was presented with a document outlining recommendations on how Antigua & Barbuda should go forward in almost every aspect of tourism development.
The 180-page report was prepared following an assessment conducted recently and according to Chairman of the SJDC Sylvester Browne, there are some points of recommendation that would have to be addressed immediately. Among these is the removal of taxis and vendors from the immediate vicinity of the cruise ship terminal.
The changes will take place as early as October 1. And while Cabinet has to officially approve the plan to erect the parking facilities for the taxis, demanding that they be moved from the immediate surroundings of Heritage Quay does not need Cabinet approval.
But Tourism Minister John Maginley, when approached by Caribarena on Thursday afternoon for a comment on the situation, has completely withdrawn himself from the discussions.
Meanwhile, speaking on the Observer Radio’s morning programme earlier that day, Browne said Heritage Quay is one of the few ports in the world where there is no “sterile area” and in keeping with the legislation governing the SJDC giving it powers to erect a sterile area, efforts will now be channeled in that direction.
He said the corporation does not need Cabinet’s approval to proceed with steps to remove the taxis from certain parts of the city and organise them in a queued manner.
“What has happened so far is that the sterile area has not been maintained. Now we have a situation where any vending goes on right up to the gate,” Browne said.
He added that the situation over the years has become “very chaotic” from taxi drivers in particular and Browne pointed out that although the problem does include taxis, it is actually “a general problem” that include vending on a large scale that presents “absolute chaos”.
What is more, according to him, is the fact that the bodies governing cruise tourism and ship appointments around the world have for quite some time warned Antigua & Barbuda about the reported “harassment” of tourists who opt to disembark the ships docked in St. John’s.
The SJDC head presented figures that show some 45 per cent of all arriving cruise passengers in the last two years opted not to leave the vessels when they come to these shores simply because of overwhelming reports of nuisance on the grounds.
“The cruise ships have said to us that we need to get the transport situation in particular organised… very little or no consideration was given to taxis and where they would park when Heritage Quay was built,” Browne said.
“When they come in town and they park they create havoc in St. John’s. The plan calls for the removal of the Ministry of Health building to make a car park and designate it for the Taxi Association. They will then have to have a proper dispatching system where they will then queue up and collect passengers… it will benefit all.
“The real difficulty is that the St. John’s Taxi Association does not want to queue,” Browne said.
He pointed out that all Antigua needs to do to get that other 45 percent of passengers off the ship is simply to organise itself properly and all will benefit.
Browne insists that at every step of the talks there has been negotiations with the taxi association but president of the Taxi Association Patrick Burnette denies this. According to him, there has been only two meetings on this issue for the year; the first having taken place in June and the last time being September 4 last.
Burnette said he represents only 150 taxi drivers but those that converge on Heritage Quay on cruise ship days also include individuals who are not members of the association.
His membership, he said, is nowhere near ready to handle the proposed changes within the timeline specified.
“What they are implying is that it is the taxi association that is responsible for these people not coming off the ship.
“I don't think we can have the dispatch system like what goes on at the airport,” Burnette said.
He added that the amount of people coming from the airport is not like the cruise ship since when people leave the airport there is nothing more for them to do but drive to their destination.
That situation does not exist in the city where tourists are known for walking through town considerably more than before. And there is a limited window for taxi drivers to convince passengers to take their tour ahead of other organisers.