Licensed V.I. taxi drivers will be able to lend their taxis to anyone with a U.S. Virgin Islands drivers license for personal use and to any licensed taxi driver for taxi and personal use, respectively, if two bills approved by the Legislature Wednesday are signed into law.
The measures, both sponsored by Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, have strong support among taxi drivers, who testified in committee hearings it was their right to do as they pleased with their own vehicles.
V.I. Taxicab Association Executive Director Judith Wheatley testified against the two measures during committee hearings, saying St. Thomas already has large numbers of unregulated gypsy cabs and these two measures would make it effectively impossible to enforce regulations requiring taxi drivers be licensed.
During session Wednesday, several senators raised concerns about the bill to allow lending cabs for personal use, questioning how it could be enforced.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said he would support the measure "because it is what you (taxi drivers in the audience) want. … But I feel strongly sometime in the near future y’all are going to be coming back asking for some changes because there will be people picking up fares."
Sen. Craig Barshinger offered an amendment saying if the vehicle is loaned for personal use, the taxi dome light must be "totally covered, secured by tape, magnet or other means." Barshinger said he wanted something to make it possible to enforce the law, and the "off duty" light or sign was insufficient because it can be turned on or off at a moment’s notice.
Several senators found this extremely funny, with Sen. Patrick Sprauve giving exaggerated, dramatic belly-laughs several times when Barshinger spoke. Sen. Louis Hill laughingly said measures like Barshinger’s are why the public has a low view of the Legislature, "because sometimes we suggest and pass into law ridiculous things. You are going to propose that we put into law that you put tape on a sign? Tape? I mean come one. There is a sign that says off-duty. If it is off duty, Ms. Wheatley will issue a $1,000 fine."
Hansen got angry at the proposal, shouting, "Who the (expletive) do you think you are?" to Barshinger. She objected to the proposal, saying, “You are asking someone to go onto their taxi and tape something."
She also said the suggestion any taxi driver would ever violate the rules was offensive and that taxi drivers can be trusted.
Before the vote on the amendment, Barshinger said he had just heard from Nelson there are commercially produced covers that can be purchased to go over the taxi lights, and that would be a reasonable alternative. The amendment failed on a 6-6 vote.
Voting for Barshinger’s amendment were Barshinger, Nelson, Sens. Neville James, Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly, Usie Richards and Ronald Russell. Voting nay were Hansen, Hill, Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Louis Hill, Patrick Sprauve, Alvin Williams and Janette Millin-Young. Sen. Sammuel Sanes abstained. Sen. Celestino White was absent on medical leave. Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone was absent.
The Legislature approved an amendment from Hansen clarifying some language in the bill.
Voting for the bill as amended were Dowe, Hansen, Hill, James, Malone, Nelson, Russell, Sprauve, Williams and Millin-Young. Voting nay were Barshinger, O’Reilly and Richards. White and Malone were absent.
The bill to allow taxi drivers to lend or lease their vehicles to other taxi drivers for commercial use was approved, after the Legislature adopted an amendment from Dowe to make the taxi medallion holder liable for any accidents or problems, unless the medallion holder produces a valid lease between the driver and the medallion owner. All senators present voted yea. White and Malone were absent.