Barbados may soon have an indigenous version of the world-renowned Uber taxi service but as Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds considers the idea, he has to dispel suspicion of local drivers who fear take-over by the foreign company.
The current Barbados practice in which some taxis align themselves with telephone booking and radio dispatching operators who relay cab requests from would-be passengers to nearby drivers pales in comparison to the Uber application in phones that gives users a direct connection to the taxi person and background.
This Barbados 20th Century practice stands against the backdrop of the island being a leading tourism destination in the world market frequented by 21st Century visitors with an Uber experience demanding fast and reliable transportation.
It is within such circumstances that Symmonds said to the Nation newspaper over the weekend, “we want to meet with taxi operators within the next week or two with a view of discussing options on how to improve business.”
Symmonds is a minister in a Barbados Labour Party government whose past prime minister, Tom Adams, in the 1980s established a system of taxi licence distribution among locals that squeezed out opportunities for international cab companies that to this day have no presence in Barbados.
“We’re not enthusiastic about Uber generally because that will allow persons with deep pockets to become dominant, so we are trying to make the small man get a greater share … This will give taxi operators the opportunity to make more money,” Symmonds explained.
The new tourism minister however has to get that message to sceptical transport operators.
“He [Symmonds] might say they trying to work that system to the benefit of the small man, but I believe it’s a way for larger businesses to get in and dominate the industry,” one taxi driver was reported saying.
But as taxi operators vent their suspicions of a foreign seizure of their livelihood, one local technology company has put up its hands with its own technology offering a very Barbadian alternative to Uber.
BeepCab, a company run by Khalil Bryan and Veronica Millington, has stated that having been providing similar service across the island since 2015 it “is ready and willing to meet Symmonds and any other relevant committee on taxi hailing and ride sharing in Barbados”.
The young Barbadians claim that BeepCab, “allows users to hail and pay for a cab at the click of a finger by alerting the closest registered taxi to come and collect them.”
Millington said on a social media post that owing to the team’s more than two years’ experience, “we’ve seen how the sector operates, been able to identify many of the challenges and pitfalls which affect the sector and its main players — taxi drivers and riders.”
Millington’s statement also shows that the objecting and sceptical taxi operators represent only a section of that sector.
“We appreciate the support from a number of persons within the industry especially taxi drivers who’ve reached out to us, BeepCab drivers who have supported us and made money with us,” she stated.
This convergence of political will and available technology might mean that Barbados is on the road towards a state-of-the-art electronic transportation link for travellers in a manner unique to the island.