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Monday, February 6, 2023


Oct. 23, 2001 – Although solutions were called for, few were found Monday night at a meeting between the V.I. Taxi Association and representatives of the water tours industry.
The meeting was called after Rik Van Rensselaer, vice president of the V.I. Marine Industries Association, prevailed upon Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., co-sponsor of a bill that would block marine tour operators from picking up passengers at cruise ship docks throughout the territory, to hold off on having the bill reviewed in committee until the parties involved could meet and try to reach a compromise. [See earlier story, "Taxi drivers, tour operators to meet on bill". ]
White was not present Monday night due to illness, according to the bill's other co- sponsor, Sen.Norma Pickard-Samuel, who said she wouldn't stay for the meeting unless she heard "solutions."
She also said, in response to remarks by Edward Thomas, president and chief executive officer of The West Indian Co., implying the proposed legislation might be unconstitutional, "I don't want to hear about constitutional laws while men and women of this community … are being taken advantage of."
Pickard-Samuel went on to rail about outsiders "coming into my home" and taking over an industry.
Eustace Grant, president of the V.I. Taxi Association, repeatedly called on the drivers, who periodically broke into loud discussion among themselves, to please "listen" during the course of the three-hour meeting that drew up to 300 people, mostly taxi drivers, to the V.I. Taxi Association building in Contant.
"You may not agree with what they are saying … but you have to learn to listen, if we are going to come to some sort of an agreement," Grant told his associates.
Many of the remarks made by the taxi drivers, who strongly favor the legislation, were directed at Judy Reeve, president of Cruise Ship Excursions Inc., a large water tour operation which runs the vessels Island Girl and the Kon Tiki, which can each carry hundreds of passengers.
One driver, Louis Industrious, said he watched over a period of many years as Reeve wrapped up all the tour business by developing an "inside track" with the ships' cruise directors and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association. In 1963, when he started driving a taxi, Industrious said, the taxi drivers ran all the land tours for the cruise ships, but slowly that business was taken entirely away from the drivers.
Industrious said a solution to the situation would be for Reeve to use her influence with the F-CCA to help the taxi drivers.
Reeve, who did not formally speak at the meeting, said on Tuesday morning that the taxi drivers came to her many years ago asking her to represent them to the cruise lines, which she did for a period of time. The agreement, which Reeve said was never official because the association refused to sign a contract, was that the drivers would retain the business they had already developed with the cruise lines, while any new business would be commissionable to Reeves.
After about six months, she said, the taxi drivers went directly to the cruise lines, saying they didn't need Reeve and would deal directly with the lines. But, she said, that was not what happened. Instead, the cruise lines opted to stay with Reeve.
One driver speaking Monday night said race was the real issue. "In order to get through, we'll probably have to change the color of our skin," this individual stated.
Thomas said he has taken members of the taxi associations to meet with F-CCA officials, but "it has never worked out." He added, "It's time to try again."
White and Pickard-Samuel's bill would require water tour operators to pick up their St. Thomas tour passengers either on the water alongside the cruise ships or at the Charlotte Amalie waterfront, with the tour takers presumably getting there via taxi from the docks. Tour operators have said it would be dangerous and unworkable to have passengers board on the water directly from the ships.
On Monday night, Thomas said he would never support transporting more people, and therefore causing further congestion, to the downtown waterfront. He said two locally owned ferry companies, Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services, had proposed running water taxi services from the WICO dock to the waterfront to ease traffic, but Thomas said he was "totally opposed to anything more going to the waterfront."
Much of the controversy Monday night seemed to stem from the fact that Reeve is not a "local" and the perception on the part of the taxi industry that "locals" have lost their edge in the tour business.
Meanwhile, insiders say the F-CCA has called for a consolidator who could negotiate all of the tours.
Shore excursions booked aboard ships provide a revenue stream for the cruise lines, which,Thomas pointed out, are hurting financially due to a drastic cutback in leisure travel since the events of Sept. 11.
Industrious suggested that Reeve negotiate on behalf of the taxi drivers and that the ships be split between the drivers and other tour operators.
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, into whose committee the bill was introduced, said taxi drivers and tour operators alike stand to lose from the proposed legislation. But he also suggested Reeve should, "go onto the ships" and represent the taxi drivers to them.
Reeve said Tuesday that the V.I. Taxi Association represents itself and runs tours for at least two cruise lines — Carnival and Holland America. "We live in a free enterprise society," she said. "They have the right to approach the cruise lines directly."
Pickard-Samuel, in the end, was satisfied that there was enough goodwill expressed at the meeting to make it possible for a public-private initiative to move forward. She said that would be her report to White.

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