In front of a packed room of independent taxi drivers at V.I. Port Authority headquarters Thursday evening, VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe said the current era of disorderly taxi pickup at Cyril E. King Airport "is coming to a quick end."
"Long story short – the free-for-all has to stop," said Dowe.
Dowe repeated several times that independent taxi drivers will no longer be allowed to park along the curb near the terminal while they pick up their clients. They will, however, be allowed to use the new taxi express lane being installed at the St. Thomas airport exit if they pay the 50 cent per passenger fee that is required of them.
Independent taxi drivers are drivers not affiliated with the V.I. Taxi association, although they may work with other associations. The Virgin Islands Taxi Association pays VIPA for exclusive rights to the taxi stand at the airport. Currently drivers not associated with VITA are only allowed to make prearranged pickups.
Dowe reiterated that independent taxis have "no legal right" to use the facility and that it is "a privilege" that can be taken away.
"This is probably one of the few airports anyplace where we believe we’re supposed to pull right up in front of the terminal," Dowe told the drivers. "You guys travel all the time and often times you know it’s not that way."
Twelve spaces near the back right-hand side of the parking lot have been provided by VIPA for independent taxi drivers to use while they wait for their passengers to arrive. Dowe said that they can continue to use any available public space as well.
The response to the reserved spaces was mixed at the meeting, with one limousine driver saying that the location near the back of the lot worked well for the size of his vehicle. Other drivers suggested that the spaces were too far away from the baggage claim area.
One driver recommended that 10 spaces closer to the airport exit be used instead. Dowe said he would look into that possibility.
Dowe said that independent taxi drivers would also be required to pay their mandatory passenger fee to use the new express lane once it is open. He said the policy is not new, but that it is going to be strictly enforced. The 50 cents per passenger fee does not include the airport’s regular parking fee.
Dowe requested that all independent taxi drivers write their vehicle number and the number of passengers they are carrying on the back of their parking ticket, and have their money ready when they arrive at the exit in order to not hold up the express lane.
Dowe said that he hoped enforcement of these policies would begin to make the airport parking lot run smoother during the busy period between noon and evening, but that he recognized there would inevitably be some congestion in the parking lot during peak hours.
He said that when the airport was renovated more than 20 years ago it was designed to accomodate approximately 300,000 people a year, and that last year a record of 720,000 people utilized the facilities at King Airport.