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Virgin Islands taxi drivers, the country’s national ambassadors

March 10th, 2012 | Tags: Taxi Dickson Igwe ambassadors
Taxis play an important role in keeping the mills of tourism turning. Photo: VINO
Dickson Igwe
Dickson Igwe
By DICKSON IGWE

Visiting a supermarket in Road Town, capital of the Virgin Islands, is a great source of news material. The retail environment and shop floor is a pot of gold for any enthusiastic, resourceful and imaginative storyteller and writer. A Saturday morning at Bobbys or Riteway, and One Mart and Supa Value, for instance, will reveal a unique dynamic of Virgin Islands society not available at settings such as the Sunday morning church service, the school sports day, a working day at the office

Saturday morning in the supermarket brings together differing and varied straws, sections and subsets of Virgin Islands society, throwing them together in a mix and grind, and a thorough refashioning. This is a pounding in the social mortar, of these varied strands, the pestle producing a very interesting mélange. The supermarket aisle takes on the feature of the test tube in a veritable social laboratory. Shoppers ambling about in a supermarket become the raw material for proposition, supposition, and exposition. In other words, a great story!

And so, this Eternal Observer, and seeker of a ‘good yarn,’ was standing in line once again at Riteway Food Markets, Pasea, on a Saturday morning in early March, 2012, behind a ‘hog’ of a taxi driver, who appeared extremely keen on doing business with a group of tourists, apparently vacationing on a yacht berthed somewhere in paradise, a group of lovely ladies who were in the same line as this Pilgrim was. Only, these ‘damsels’ were at the head of the queue, and cashing a mountain load of groceries, a prelude to a romantic sail of the archipelago.

Mr. Taxi Driver, who also had some shopping, and who was in an apparent ‘rush,’ and shifting his big body irritatingly, behind this shopper, suddenly and very rudely barged out in front, jumping the queue, and evidently filled with knowledge that this Local Prospect with a Riteway hand basket, and with only the week’s newspapers, and a couple of additional items, was not his type of quarry. The real gold for the impatient ‘hustler’ of a taxi driver was further out front, presumably yacht charter customers, passing their wares to the cashier, and subsequently into a sprinkling of shopping trolleys nearby.

Yes, the tourists at the front of the line were the taxi man’s target audience, and his meal ticket of the day. And so it was, that this big, aggressive, taxi man, embarked upon a rendition of affected charm and chit chat, a ‘put on,’ that in this keen Conversationalists opinion was down right, well, er, embarrassing. The absence of good etiquette, the crossing the line of proper behavior, the lack of any culture whatsoever, the desperation, the excessively overbearing manner, the lack of subtlety, the silly fawning, the over friendliness, the absence of gravitas, and the rude behavior towards anyone who wasn’t an immediate customer for his services said it all. This was the classic bull in a china shop syndrome in terms of good manners.

Were this shopper one of those tourists, he would have been terrified with the thought of spending time in the same vehicle, and driven around by this particular ‘beast.’

Now, one unbaked ‘loaf’ does not represent the vast majority of men and women in the heated oven that is the Virgin Islands taxi industry, but one poorly behaved taxi driver can smudge the reputation of hundreds of hard working professionals, who are knowledgeable, skillful, and polite. As the saying goes, one rotten apple infects the rest of the barrel.

Now, it there is one individual who interacts with the VI’s bread and butter, the mighty tourist, and most frequently, it is the taxi driver. He or she is the very first impression many visitors have of these Virgin Islands. A courteous, professional and experienced taxi driver can make all the difference between a first class experience and a nightmare for the visitor. For all the good intentions and plans of the BVI Tourist Board, one badly behaved taxi driver will send the quality of the Virgin Islands tourism product up in smoke, and then on a downward spiral very swiftly for the Virgin Islands citizen, resident, and visitor.

There are a very small number of ‘horrid stories’ of badly behaved taxi drivers, including one narrative that speaks of a taxi driver pulling a machete on a visitor: that driver is still in business, it is understood. And know this; one poor experience negates all of the positive experiences the visitor may have had before. Visitors remember the good experiences, but it is the bad ones that remain in their minds: this is simple human nature.

The taxi industry in the Virgin Islands, from simple observation, is self regulating. It is also a powerful political group. Consequently, any change must come from within. From the provision of public transportation services, to a first class service that caters for the international traveler, the quality of the Virgin Islands taxi industry is squarely in the hands of the operators. The BVI Tourist Board and Government can facilitate the industry by providing seminars, training, and a broad and thorough transportation infrastructure. But it is the integrity and professionalism of the taxi driver upon which the smooth running of this most critical of tourism based services depends.

One suggestion is the provision of a taxi code of conduct, etiquette, and rule book, which could be determined by the industry itself, in cooperation and collaboration with Government. This should give direction on subtleties such as nuances that are acceptable and unacceptable, for example, the issue of giving tourists ‘personal space,’ and knowing when to speak, and when not to speak. Talkativeness is not necessarily a virtue in a taxi driver, and it is certainly not the same thing as offering the visitor knowledgeable and exact information.

Another is establishing dress code that is attractive, cultural, and acceptable to all stakeholders. Finally a tour guide manual must be created and designed that is comprehensive, historic, and cultural, and easy to read and maneuver. A tour manual is a critical document that should become a type of bible for the taxi business, and made available to the tourist to facilitate what they are being told by the taxi driver and tour guide about these wonderful islands.

Yes, the taxi driver is ambassador for these Virgin Islands to the outside world. He must not allow one or two of his colleagues to tarnish that most sacrosanct role.

Dickson Igwe is on Twitter and Facebook

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