Today’s Opinion: Silly measure

POSTED: 05/20/11 12:46 PM

Coming from a press conference where the Caribbean Tourism Organization CTO stressed the importance of working together, not only in the wider Caribbean, but also in St. Maarten with its two-country island status, it was easy to get into a state of bewilderment about the announcement by the Collectivité d’Outre Mer de Saint Martin that Dutch-side taxi drivers will soon have to pony up a €150 ($217.50) annual fee for operating on the French side.

The cab drivers on the Dutch side are upset and they reject the idea. That’s a very firm position, but we wonder how this will work in the real world. It is almost inevitable that the Dutch side will retaliate and introduce a similar fee for French-side taxi drivers to operate over here. If they want to send a message to Marigot, they’ll top the French fee and make it, say, $300 for cab drivers from the other side to do business here.

That will lead to a reaction from the French. Maybe they will up their fee as well, or maybe they will close the border for Dutch taxis – you never know.

But what is the point of all this? It is clear that the French-side authorities need money, and stealing it from the pockets of Dutch-side cabbies isn’t going to cost them any votes when the next elections come around.

Honestly, we do not see the point of this. Cab drivers who refuse to pay the fee will sooner or later encounter a gendarmerie control at the border. That will be an embarrassing experience for the passengers they are transporting to, say, the nudist beach in Orient Bay.

When push comes to shove, and the French stick to their guns – we hear they’re good at that – Dutch cab drivers will have to stop at the border and unload their passengers who will then have to transfer to a French taxi. Taking into account that the French maintain liberal lunch hours we fear that many a tourist will get stuck in the blistering sunshine either in Belvedere or at the border crossing on Union Road while the French cab drivers polish off their lunch with a cool glass of wine.

This is a typical lose-lose situation that will only damage the image of the island as a tourist destination. It will also frustrate cab drivers who, until now, had the free run of the island, like their fellow transport specialists on the mini buses.

If the French are going to enforce the fee for cab drivers, it is almost inevitable that a fee for bus drivers will be next. It will lead to unnecessary complications in the working relationship between the two parts of the island. The gendarmerie has better things to do then chasing Dutch cab drivers who refuse to pay this silly fee and at the end of the day the clientele of the taxi services will pay the price with higher fares, and harassment at the border.

Honorable President Frantz Gumbs, we have a request to make. Please do yourself a favor and reconsider this silly and disastrous measure.


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