Published On: Sat, Mar 23rd, 2024

Cab-drivers oppose introduction of Uber

PHILIPSBURG — Since 2021 the government had never ordered more than 550 plates for taxi licenses but over the past couple of years around 30 percent, or 165, of these plates were not picked up. This mean that there are around 385 taxis active on the Dutch side of our island. There are 200 cab drivers on the French side of the island. This appears from answers Minister Arthur Lambriex (Tourism, Economic Affairs, Telecommunication and Transport) provided to seventeen questions from the Integrity Chamber.

In 2021, 182 plates were not picked up, in 2022 and 2023 165.

Lambriex stated that there is a cap of 550 for the number of taxi licenses. “Issuing additional licenses will not affect the landscape of transportation because the cap was set at 550 by previous ministers.

The transportation committee that used to deal with the issuance of taxi licenses has been dormant since the government issued a moratorium in 2014.

According to the Integrity Chamber, the ministry issued an additional 100 permits in 2023, among them ten each to major associations. Minister Lambriex mentions cruise line challenges and ensuring sufficient supply as the reasons for this decision.

The introduction of Uber, or similar cab-sharing services, met with a negative reaction from cab drivers during a meeting with the minister. “They immediately began talking negatively about it without hearing the minister out,” Lambriex stated. “It was agreed that the minister will not discuss anything with Uber.”

In spite of the rejection by the cab drivers, Lambriex acknowledged that there are two or three Uber-like operators active on the island who offer their services through apps and websites, based on valid taxi-licenses.

The minister notes that there is no central number where somebody can call for a taxi. “It is important to keep up with technology and I tried to discuss that but nobody wanted to understand the logic or even listen to the idea.”

Minister Lambriex emphasized that it is illegal to lease taxi licenses to a third party. “The ministry is investigating this and can revoke permits that are illegally rented out.”

The government does not generate any revenue from issuing taxi licenses, other than collecting road tax. Permits expire after five years before they have to be renewed.

Taxi associations do not use the option of requesting an increase of concessionaires at the harbor and the airport, Minister Lambriex stated. “They are protecting themselves to receive all jobs and rather have guests wait than to allow an increase of drivers.”

The minister explained that the legislation from 1969 that regulates the cab-economy was amended years ago. Applicants for a license are no longer required to have the Dutch nationality. Currently there are cabbies that do not have Dutch nationality but they all have permanent residence in St. Maarten, the minister stated.

The law does not prohibit civil servants from holding a taxi license, Minister Lambriex stated, “even though the practice has been to issue such permits to the unemployed.” The law only requires that cab-driving is the license-holder’s main income, but it does not have to be the only income.

The Integrity Chamber’s last question was about a civil servant at the Ministry of Public Health (VSA) who drove a taxi on a permit issued to a person named Groeneveld and who reportedly drove his car into the water during an accident on the French side. The question: why was a permit granted to someone working at the VSA-ministry?

Lambriex stated that answering the question about the reasons for issuing the permit requires using the National Ordinance on Open Government. ”However, it should not matter if the license holder is a civil servant or not. An accident can happen to any license holder.”


Opinion piece

A funny lot

Cab-drivers are a funny lot and they are not a barrel of laughs. These people are just peculiar.

During a meeting with Minister Arthur Lambriex (Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication) they reacted strongly when the minister wanted to discuss Uber. The cabbies did not even want to hear what he had to say. That’s one way of sticking your head in the sand.

Uber and similar companies offer a concept that appeals to a generation that grew up with smartphones. You order a ride online, the nearest driver picks up the job and off you go. There is no argument about the price because the app tells you what the fare is and you can pay it online even before your cabbie arrives. It is convenient and hassle-free.

Based on results, our cab-drivers are not interested in offering hassle-free services. They want to keep doing what they have always done and think that by ignoring developments in their market their jobs will remain safe. If only it was that simple. Spoiler alert: it isn’t.

Visitors coming to our island are used to using Uber-like services so when they arrive in a country that does not even have a central taxi dispatch, or a phone number where you can call for a taxi, they cannot be very happy. It could even be a reason for advising their friends to vacation somewhere else because you have to wait forever for a taxi – if you can find one.

The good news, for some of us, is that stubborn cab-drivers will not be able to stop the rise of Uber-like services. Hell, they are already active on our island.

According to Minister Lambriex there are two or three options whereby cab drivers offer their services through an app or a website. In other words, the future has already arrived and it sounds like a good idea, at least to me, that our cab drivers get used to it.

I’d think that the introduction of Uber, or a similar service, does not necessarily mean that cab-drivers are going to lose income. On the contrary, they could get more rides and more importantly, happier customers.

We are sure that the cab drivers that are using apps or websites to approach their market could tell stories about their experiences. We would encourage them to share those experiences, anonymously if they fear retribution from others who are stuck in twentieth century tax-services.

If we want to move forward, and if we want to remain attractive as a tourism destination, we have to go with the times. If our cab drivers remain stuck in the past, in the illogical argument of we-always-have-done-it-this-way then this is doing nobody any good.

Dear cab-drivers: at least think about it.