Gov. Kenneth Mapp signed into law a bill allowing all those allowed to bid on taxi medallions to immediately turn around and see how much they can make by leasing them to people who actually want to drive taxis.
At the same time, Mapp vetoed the budget for the V.I. Taxicab Commission, the autonomous agency charged with enforcing taxi regulations, on the grounds that taxi drivers are hardworking and therefore should not be assessed fines or fees by its regulator.
The taxi medallion bill [Bill 31-0097] sponsored by Sen. Justin Harrigan simply says, “The three-year prohibition on leasing medallions does not apply to veterans.” All V.I. taxi medallion sales have been reserved for veterans for more than a decade, so eliminating the restriction for veterans just eliminates the restriction altogether. (See Related Links below)
Under the old law, those who purchase taxi "medallions" at auction, entitling them to a taxi license, can not lease or sell them for at least three years after purchase and then only with approval from the V.I. Taxicab Commission. Anti-speculation laws are often enacted to ensure that those applying for the licenses really want them and are not simply speculating in hopes of profiting from those who need the licenses to earn their livelihood. Whether this was the reason for the V.I. anti-speculation law the Legislature removed with this action is unclear because when the Legislature considered the bill there was no discussion at all of why the law was originally put in place. Senators strongly supported the change to the law on the grounds that veterans are noble people, who are homeless or disabled more frequently than others. (See Related Links below)
The V.I. Taxicab Commission estimates the market rate to buy a taxi medallion at roughly $15,000 on St. Croix, $40,000 on St. Thomas, and $60,000 on St. John. Purchasers are limited to two medallions. Under the new law, a disabled, homeless St. Thomas veteran who has $80,000 in cash available for speculative investments, as envisioned by senators supporting the law, can now get two St. Thomas taxi medallions, then immediately lease them out for profit to others who need them to earn a living driving a taxi.
Meanwhile, Mapp vetoed the budget for the V.I. Taxicab Commission, the entity tasked with enforcing remaining taxi regulations, on the grounds that it, like the Public Services Commission, and to a lesser extent, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, is funded by fees and fines from those it regulates.
“For too long, the Taxicab Commission has operated on the backs of hardworking and struggling taxi and tour operators through the issuance of fines, levies, and fees," Mapp said in his veto message.
"Taxi drivers and tour operators have been assessed penalties as high as $1,000 for first offense infractions that a non-taxi driver would be assessed a fine in traffic court of $75. We cannot statutorily mandate that an agency regulate an industry and then that agency target the citizens it is regulating to collect sufficient revenues so the regulators can be paid,” Mapp concluded.
For comparison, the PSC is statutorily mandated to regulate V.I. phone companies, cable television, ferries and water and electric utilities. It charges these utilities millions of dollars every year – charges that are passed on to V.I. residents through their bills, and which go to pay outside consultants to investigate the utilities on behalf of the PSC.
These two major deregulations of the V.I. taxi industry add to a growing list of government actions to remove legal regulation of taxi service. (See: "Senate Deregulates Taxis" in Related Links below)
Although tourism is the territory’s primary industry and is projected to grow in importance to the local economy, at present there is no central number to call for a taxi and no reliable taxi service after dusk anywhere in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Unlicensed, unregulated "gypsy" cabs are a large portion of all taxi service on St. Thomas but are less active on St. Croix.
Mapp also vetoed a measure, sponsored by Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly, to increase V.I. government funding for debt service on the University of the Virgin Island’s planned medical school from $700,000 to $1 million.
“While I support the territory’s medical school and have stated so publicly, I have made it clear to the leadership of the university that the central government cannot carry any additional financial burden for the medical school beyond the benefits we committed as of May 6, 2015. The leadership of the university agreed and indicated they were not seeking any additional financial support. In fact, UVI laid out its financial plan on how the medical school would be sustained financially without additional government support.”
Mapp also acted this week to approve an array of fund transfers and appropriations as part of the FY 2016 budget process.