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Taxi fares, Argyle airport and Carnival

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Hopes were high in St Vincent and the Grenadines for a bumper Carnival 2017. After all, air access has been vastly improved with the opening and operation of the Argyle International Airport, thereby providing a facility for getting visitors into, and particularly, out of St Vincent for Carnival. This has been a perennial problem, especially disruptive in 2016.

In addition, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the changeover of our Carnival season from the original pre-Lenten, February/March to June/July. That step, taken in 1977, is the single biggest factor in making our Carnival an international attraction and a real boost to both the festival itself and the tourism sector. It was hoped that the 40th anniversary, coupled with the AIA factor, would have made a real difference for Carnival 2017.

Those hopes are still alive, even if not as optimistically pronounced as before. The continuing frustration over the delay in getting scheduled international flights to and from Argyle and even in the level of charter services offered, at least not to the level envisaged, has toned down expectations somewhat. That is not to say that Argyle would not witness improved passenger turnover vis a vis Arnos Vale, for Carnival 2017, but reality may not quite match expectations.

The biggest air access problem last year revolved around the regional airline LIAT and its stranding of a multitude of visitors. A big scare was averted last week after an ultimatum by LIAT pilots, giving notice of industrial action, was reportedly, withdrawn. One remains with crossed fingers though, that industrial, peace will prevail.

But just as we begin to breathe sighs of relief, up comes another potential threat. This one involves the dissatisfaction by taxi drivers stationed at the airport about the level of fares they are being allowed to charge passengers. The taxi drivers allege that the fares designated were set without consultation with them and are inadequate and unrealistic. They have been seeking redress through meetings with airport and government officials.

However, from reports reaching us, just when it appeared that agreement had been arrived at with the Ministry of Transport for new rates to be taken to Cabinet for approval, it seems that more confusion has been introduced, in that the taxi operators are charging that the rates taken to Cabinet are not those mutually agreed on.

If this is correct, one must ask, what really is going on? Already there was considerable blame-shifting as to which entity was responsible for drawing up the rates in the first place, so this could only undermine the lack of trust and confidence so necessary to arrive at a solution.

The Argyle airport cannot be operated at the level to which we have become accustomed at Arnos Vale. There, there was not even a visible signboard of designated rates, leaving unscrupulous drivers to sometimes charge more than legally designated. The taxis provide a valuable service to both locals and visitors alike and their participation in agreeing to rules of engagement is vital if they are to be held accountable to those rules.

It is time to put an end to the games and musical chairs and as responsible entities, sit down with the operators, agree on terms and conditions and insist that these be adhered to by all concerned.

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