The V.I. Senate is right to seriously consider requiring that taxicab operators offer riders the option of paying with cash or with a credit or debit card.
The hearing today on the bill proposed by Sen. Kurt Vialet will bring forth many objections from taxicab owners who want to keep their business on a “cash only” status.
For some, like the small “dollar ride” safaris on St. Thomas, the riders are not likely to be tourists — who are accustomed to using a card to pay for just about everything. Instead, their riders are residents who may not even use credit or debit cards. Using a credit card to pay $2 could be unwieldy and counter-productive since the operator must give the credit card company a percentage.
Clearly, one size does not fit all. Some taxi categories are focused on local residents and some are focused almost entirely on visitors, and the method and style of taxi operations are not the same on all three islands. Generally, these are the categories of taxis:
• “Dollar ride” safari taxis that drive back and forth on a defined route, picking up and dropping off riders at the roadside.
• On-call taxis that come to the rider’s location and take the rider directly to a requested location.
• Airport taxis that pick up riders and take them to hotels or ferry docks.
• Hotel taxis that take guests to and from the hotel to designated destinations.
• Cruise ship dock taxis that pick up ship passengers and take them to and from downtown.
• Tour taxis, usually large open-air rigs, that take tourists on a scenic trip around the island.
The big money is in the taxi services that tourists use, and it would make sense for the operators to welcome whatever makes those customers happy. Tourists from the states don’t like to carry a lot of cash — in fact, tourist advisor websites warn them to leave their money at home and use nothing but credit cards. So why wouldn’t the taxi operators happily accept cards?
There is wide-spread local suspicion that cash-only taxi operators are tax-dodgers who don’t report their true income. The firestorm of objections to adding the credit card option may justify those suspicions and should motivate the senators to dig deep to find the truth.
It is unfair to taxi operators who pay their fair share of taxes to let them be tainted by such suspicion. But it is equally unfair to the government and to other taxpayers to let any taxi operators get away with not paying the taxes they should.
Senators should not let themselves be distracted by complaints that they would be violating the rights of private businesses. Yes, the taxicab businesses are privately owned, but the V.I.Government grants them the right to have that business. By issuing medallions, the government determines who can own a taxi, and the government, through the V.I. Port Authority, determines which taxicabs can transport riders from the airports and docks. Requiring that taxicab operators offer the credit card/debit option is within the government’s regulatory authority.
This proposed change to make tourists happy and at the same time pull in lost — and desperately needed — income tax revenue will require a sophisticated level of analysis and balanced judgment to be fair and effective.
Senators, show us you are up to the task.