March 31, 2005 – Thursday morning was a quiet one on Main Street as taxi drivers test drove an experimental traffic management plan. For one day there was no parking on the street, and no stopping to drop off or pick up in the traffic lane. The plan, devised by the Police Department, the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce and the V.I. Taxi Association, is a hybrid of sorts between the status quo gridlock and blocking off Main Street to vehicles, making it a pedestrian mall.
"The last time they tried it with no cars on Main Street tourists said they didn't like to go to the specific pick-up points," said Claudia Blackett who works downtown at A.H. Riise. "They're used to stepping into the street and hailing a cab. They don't want to walk in the hot sun."
But the convenience of grabbing a cab in the middle of the street has frequently stopped traffic, a situation "not prohibitive for the tourists," Blackett said. "But for us residents, yes, traffic moves at a snail's pace."
Driver Lee Pickering frequently finds his taxi at a standstill on Main Street, and cites the normally full parking lane as the problem.
"When someone calls you, if they want a taxi back to the ship, there's nowhere to pull over. Cars park on the street at 7 in the morning and they're parked there all day. So you have to stop on the street and 10, 15 cars are backed up behind you."
He is behind the no-stopping, no-parking trial 100 percent, but said that for it to work, consistent police enforcement will be needed.
Pickering's colleague, Jose Lettsome, agrees, saying it helps when police officers are there to help keep traffic flowing.
"Even though I am a taxi driver, I still say a lot of taxi drivers are part of the problem," said Lettsome. "They should be penalized for stopping in the middle of the road. Things will get better."
Some vehicles were towed Thursday and citations issued as many drivers either ignored the experimental traffic rules or claimed to know nothing about them.
"A lot of them were doing what they were accustomed to doing," Deputy Police Chief Elvin R. Fahie said Thursday afternoon.
As for that early morning quiet, it was all but gone later in the day.
"As soon as they started coming in the afternoon, they said they didn't know anything about it," Fahie said.
The Police Department, the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce and the V.I. Taxi Association will meet again to discuss the plan further.
"It will happen again on a heavier traffic day," said Fahie. "Next time around we'll give more education and make an earlier announcement. If they give it a chance, it will work. Even taxi drivers agree that once Main Street traffic stops, it affects all traffic."
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