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Dear St Lucia Times,
Since the reopening of the borders to flights and passengers at the Hewanorra International Airport on June 4th 2020, only the Southern Taxi Association has been allowed to pick-up passengers.
According to the Saint Lucia Air & Seaports Authority (SLASPA), this was mandated by the CMO and the Ministry of Tourism for the first phase of the reopening of the country.
The justification for this decision was based on the belief that we, the independent taxis and ground transportation companies, were disorganized and unregulated and therefore the CMO and the Ministries of Health and Tourism had concerns about not being able to control and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Whilst this presumption was grossly inaccurate because no one discussed these concerns with us beforehand, we acquiesced and took all the necessary steps to make our taxi operations COVID Certified.
The majority of us attended the COVID Certified Transportation course with the Ministry of Tourism, got certified and procured all the necessary PPE and sanitization materials at our expense, in anticipation of being granted access in the subsequent phases.
The country is currently in Phase 4-5 of the reopening and we have still not yet been granted access to be able to provide airport transfers at the international airport.
We have spoken to the Ministry of Tourism who have advised that they have given the green-light to SLASPA to allow us access to the airport. Despite several phone calls and meetings with SLASPA they are still preventing us from accessing the terminal to pick up our paying customers.
Many of us have invested our life savings into our taxi companies. Prior to COVID it was an open market and we were able to generate our business online via travel agents, OTA’s like Expedia and Booking.com, our websites and Social Media.
Many of us took loans to buy luxury high end vehicles to meet the demands of clients. We have made significant investments to grow our taxi businesses on our own without help or handouts from any government or agency.
All of our clients book and pay for their transfers before they arrive in Saint Lucia. For the past six months we have been refunding and canceling booking requests or passing the trip to Southern Taxi Association without collecting a cent for ourselves.
We have literally been giving away business, losing clients and losing our appeal and market share because we are not able to provide the service we advertise.
We informed SLASPA that we are in fact organized and we have partnered with local Destination Management Companies (DMC) to represent us at the airport.
That partnership would mean that all of us do not have to wait and gather in the terminal whilst we wait for our clients and this would allow us to meet the social distancing and group minimum protocols. The DMC’s would also keep track of all of our transfers and be able to assist the CMO and MoH with any contact tracing and follow-up where needed.
SLASPA has been deliberately slow in granting access to us because they have for years wanted to keep us out of the airport.
For years we have faced pressure from SLASPA and especially their Ports Police, who make us feel unwelcome, as if we are doing something illegal.
They finally found a way to keep us out through this new check-point at the entrance to the terminal. To add to that, we recently received word through multiple unofficial sources that SLASPA is planning to introduce a new system of permits and fees to be paid by all of us to them.
They are using the COVID situation to launch this elaborate plan to raise money and make up for reduced revenue by imposing draconian and unreasonable fees on each one of us, just to be able to come to the airport which is a public space.
To make matters even worse, they are also planning to take total control of our taxi business by forcing us to dispatch our clients only through a desk established and operated by them, instead of allowing us to partner with our choice of local DMCs.
That would essentially be depriving us our freedom of choice and depriving our local DMCs of business. At a time when the tourism industry is badly fractured and we have fewer visitors than previous years, they are planning to impose these new costs and expenses on us.
If this is in fact their plan, we are calling on the Prime Minister, Minister responsible for Ports Honourable Stephenson King and the Minister for Tourism Dominic Fedee to intervene on our behalf.
This is a matter of survival for all of us who have families, bills, rent, loans and any hopes of salvaging the reputation of the taxi business we have built over the years.
We have made our proposal to SLASPA and are calling on the management to approve it and grant us access to the international airport with urgency so we can get back to earning a living in these already dire times. Our livelihoods are at stake.
A Saint Lucian Independent Taxi Driver