Taxis: A struggle for greater unity
By Kevin Spurgaitis, Bermuda Sun, 23 jun 2000
RECENT violence against cab drivers has heightened calls for greater unity in the industry.
"There's got to be an organization that speaks for every driver in this country and makes the industry better," said Joe Brown, president of the currently inactive Bermuda Taxi Federation (BTF).
Mr. Brown, a taxicab owner and operator, believes disunity has hindered the industry's progress.
Recent publicity has done little to help: two weeks ago, cab driver Noel Bascome, 44, went to jail for causing the death of an elderly passenger while impaired - he had crashed into a wall.
A few days later cab driver Warrington (Soup) Zuill, 68, was beaten-up after picking up three men late at night outside Tio Pepe restaurant.
These and other incidents prompted Transport Minister Dr. Ewart Brown to call for cabbies to take action. The issues facing taxi drivers first rest with the industry and then the Ministry, he said.
The Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) announced it would consult the taxi industry and convey any suggestions to Government so that new safety and security regulations can be developed.
However, the cooperation of taxi drivers as a whole will not come easy, says Joe Brown, since many drivers are "only out there for themselves."
Mr. Brown has campaigned long and hard to have "one voice" representing the taxi industry. He even allowed members of the once active (BTF) to depart in 1998 in order join the taxi division of the BIU.
600 cabs on the road According to the Transport Control Department (TCD), there are 600 taxis permitted to be on the road and more than 3,000 drivers licensed to operate them. About half ever receive the opportunity to taxi.
There are two unions including the Bermuda Taxi Owner Association and the BIU, the latter of which, with a membership of more than 200 people, is the largest organization acting on behalf of the island's cabbies.
BIU president Derrick Burgess said those in the taxi industry who do not belong to any union are losing out. "They all have something in common working in the same industry. If we all come together, it's going to benefit one and all."
Because union membership is optional for drivers, the monitoring of non-unionized labour can be challenging, Mr. Burgess admitted. Although he agrees one voice would be beneficial to the industry, he does not want union membership to become mandatory.
Most taxi operators have chosen not to join either one of Bermuda's taxi unions. Mr. Brown says those who own their cabs refuse to answer to an elected board that may consist of non-proprietary drivers. The thought of being dealt with by drivers who do not have their own "wheels" is unsettling, he said.
Owners, in turn, also experience difficulty telling drivers what to do once they lease out their vehicles. At best, they are able to instruct drivers to keep their cabs clean and the gas tanks full.
These drivers have nothing at stake, owners have said. They have nothing to lose other than their taxi licenses, which are usually only temporarily suspended. With nothing invested in their industry, some operators do not adhere to taxi driver regulations as minute as collared shirts, knee-high socks and dress shoes, let alone more serious safety codes.
It is this kind of disharmony which has thwarted attempts to unify the taxi industry.
Taxi owner and driver Glenda Maduro, said participation in organized labour is not necessary for her because she, like other cab owners, is able to run her own business as she sees fit. Owners' interests are not the same as those who lease the cabs from them.
"Taxi drivers are entrepreneurs, they don't need a labour organization to dictate," she said. "Everyone is accountable for themselves." And she does not feel any union can help monitor the so-called "bad apples."
The industry has had reported problems with on-duty drivers using drugs, drinking and working exhaustive hours. While some taxi workers say such incidents are isolated, others argue that collectively, they pose a problem for an industry with such direct responsibility for customer safety.
TCD has monitoring and disciplinary measures in place and promises stricter drug testing in the near future. Mr. Brown, however, would like to see one taxi union with the power to police itself.
He cited examples of TCD's airport traffic officers who are sometimes oblivious to drivers who are "noticeably drunk" or too tired to drive.
Drivers should also report any incidences they observe on the road, Mr. Brown said, but they very seldom do in fear of condemnation from fellow drivers. "They are not worried about the industry, they are worried about themselves."
Mr. Brown underscores the need for a union that can govern and discipline itself, probe individual cases and present solutions to TCD something the Ministry of Transport has asked of the taxi industry.
A lack of accountability on the part of some taxi workers has frustrated drivers like Mr. Brown. He asserts that a strong union with appropriate safeguards would ensure no taxi driver crosses the line: "When one fella does something bad, it effects all of us."