Transport Minister Michael Fahy announced more details on plans to introduce rental cars to make Bermuda more competitive with other tourism destinations.

At a news conference today, Senator Fahy also took issue with concerns raised by Shadow Transport Minister Lawrence Scott, who stated on live radio on Tuesday that the new Bill is “legislation without representation”.

Both Mr Scott and former Transport Minister and Premier Dr Ewart Brown were in-studio guests on the Sherri Simmons show.

Senator Fahy told the media today that the Government was taking a “very conservative” approach with the initiative and that the vehicles will be strictly regulated.

The Motor Car Amendment (No .2) Act 2016 is scheduled for debate in the House of Assembly on Friday, one week after it was tabled last Friday.

The Minister said today the incentive behind the proposal is twofold, to allow tourists “the option of renting a motorized vehicle other than a scooter” to make Bermuda more competitive with other tourist destinations, and “most importantly” to address the issue of road safety.

“Gone are the days of thousands of tourists weaving on relatively empty roads on mopeds leisurely exploring Bermuda,” said Senator Fahy.

“Practically any local person can tell you an anecdotal horror story about witnessing a floundering tourist come off a rental scooter. And, depending on the severity of the accident, that could be that person’s holiday ruined.

“I personally witnessed in 2011 a woman lose her leg in front of her family in Somerset when she collided with a bus. It was devastating for her and her entire family who had to see that.”

The Minister also stressed the Government was “taking a very conservative approach to this initiative”, which will have “many restrictions” on “which vehicles can be used for this venture”.

About ten vehicles deemed appropriate have bee short-listed. All of them are A-class in size or smaller “in terms of dimensions”. “They will be unable to take more than two passengers and have little to no capacity for carrying luggage of any kind,” said the Minister.

“Whilst we have called the vehicles livery motor cars they are more akin to quadri-cycles, although three-wheeled vehicles are not excluded from consideration.” And the “design or build of the body of a livery motor car will be regulated and controlled”.

“There will also be restrictions in place as to what a potential motor car livery business should look like and how it should operate. For example, for an individual to establish a motor car livery business, that person must have a license to operate a motor car livery, which can be obtained on written application to the Minister.

“It will be an offence to operate a motor car livery without such a license. That license will expire one calendar year after the date of issue. This will essentially mean that TCD inspectors will examine a proposed site and their operations before recommending to the Minister the granting of such a license.

“Additional provisions listed in the Bill specify that the Minister may grant or refuse a license to operate a livery subject to any terms and conditions deemed appropriate, and that the Minister may, at any time, vary the conditions attached to a license.

“In considering an application, the suitability of the premises from which it is intended to operate a livery, the suitability of the equipment in such premises and the qualifications of the staff which it is proposed to employ in the operation of the livery will all be taken into account.

“The Minister will have the power to revoke a license if it appears that there has been a material change in the suitability of the premises, equipment or staff connected with the livery since the license was granted; or that the licensee has not complied with any of the conditions attached to their license.

“Additionally, no livery motor car will be permitted to be rented to a person under the age of 18 years or a person who does not hold a valid driver’s license.”

Senator Fahy noted that the Ministry “hopes to begin work on the regulations this summer, which will outline further criteria for the proposed industry”. And consultation will take place with “the various stakeholders”.

He also had a few terse words for the Shadow Transport Minister who was accused of spreading misinformation.

“I note has not made a single call or sent any email to the Ministry seeking clarification before speaking to the media.

“This bill has not been brought to benefit any MP or Senator of the OBA. It is wholly disingenuous to suggest something like this,” he said. “This scheme will not have a detrimental effect on the taxi industry.

“The types of vehicles we are talking about are small and as I have outlined the cc’s of the vehicles under consideration simply would be unable to handle any more than a driver and a passenger. In fact visitor numbers are increasing and in my view they will continue to do so. Any small number of persons that may use one of the new vehicles will be offset by the rising numbers of tourists very easily.

When contacted by Bermuda Real, Mr Scott said this new initiative essentially amounts to a declaration of war on the taxi industry, and “lends to the depreciation on the value of taxi permits”.

“The more competition the Taxi industry faces the less a Taxi Permit is worth as they currently compete against buses, mini buses and ferries; and now rental cars,” said Mr Scott.

“Taxi permits can cost upwards of $100,000 while a permit for rental cars is $500 for 25 cars. And rental cars do not attract a single visitor. No one picks a destination due to whether or not they can rent a car,” he said.

Mr Scott noted that “last year marked a 49-year low for visitor arrivals”. “The Minister should be more concerned with the time element when USA opens its borders to Cuba’s tourism.

“Over 80% of our tourists are Americans. It has been projected there will be a shortfall in US tourists to Bermuda and many Caribbean Islands when tourists go to Cuba. Government needs to get the cooperation from UK to allow this Island to receive airline arrivals from Europe,” he said.

The Minister also said that prospective car rental dealers will be able to start on applications, while a regulatory framework with vehicle specifics is developed. Mr Scott asked: “Why are we in such a rush to bring this legislation? Why introduce and try to pass a law without a regulatory framework that’s ready to go and accompany it?

“This is legislation without representation and no in-depth consultation with the taxi industry. The minister has gone on record in stating that he is only now consulting with the taxi Industry, which is a reactionary move as I highlighted the point that they had not been previously consulted with Sustainable Development Committee or the current Road Safety Council,” Mr Scott said.

He also pointed up the negative results of a number of polls by the Bermuda Tourism Authority, which asked visitors in exit surveys and a random telephone survey, if they would like to have the option to rent cars while vacationing in Bermuda. Said Mr Scott: “Both polls received a ‘NO’ answer.

Minister Fahy’s full statement follows below:

Good morning,

Today I am here to announce details in respect of the Ministry of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities’ proposed amendments to the Motor Car Act 1951 that speaks to the types of vehicles proposed for use as rental vehicles in Bermuda. The Motor Car Amendment (No .2) Act 2016 is scheduled to be debated in the House this Friday which follows the tabling of the Bill on Friday last week.

The incentive behind the proposal to broaden the types of vehicles for rent on the island is twofold – firstly, allowing tourists the option of renting a motorized vehicle other than a scooter will make us more competitive with other jurisdictions. Tourists, like all of us, want options; not all of them feel safe driving a scooter but would still like to remain autonomous when it comes to exploring the island. Secondly, and most importantly, this is an issue of safety. Gone are the days of thousands of tourists weaving on relatively empty roads on mopeds leisurely exploring Bermuda.

Practically any local person can tell you an anecdotal horror story about witnessing a floundering tourist come off a rental scooter. And, depending on the severity of the accident, that could be that person’s holiday ruined. I personally witnessed in 2011 a woman lose her leg in front of her family in Somerset when she collided with a bus. It was devastating for her and her entire family who had to see that.

I take this opportunity to stress that we are taking a very conservative approach to this initiative and that there will be many restrictions in place in terms of which vehicles can be used for this venture. We currently have short-listed about ten makes of vehicle which we feel would be appropriate for this purpose, all of which are private car A-class in size or smaller in terms of dimensions.

However the engine sizes and horsepower of the vehicles for consideration, as outlined in the Bill, essentially mean that they will be unable to take more than two passengers and have little to no capacity for carrying luggage of any kind. Whilst we have called the vehicles livery motor cars they are more akin to quadri-cycles, although three-wheeled vehicles are not excluded from consideration. The proposed Act is very clear that the design or build of the body of a livery motor car will be regulated and controlled so as to be conducive to road safety in Bermuda; and so as to preserve as far as possible the amenities of Bermuda. They will have to go through rigorous testing in order to be deemed suitable.

There will also be restrictions in place as to what a potential motor car livery business should look like and how it should operate. For example, for an individual to establish a motor car livery business, that person must have a license to operate a motor car livery, which can be obtained on written application to the Minister. It will be an offence to operate a motor car livery without such a license. That license will expire one calendar year after the date of issue. This will essentially mean that TCD inspectors will examine a proposed site and their operations before recommending to the Minister the granting of such a license.

Additional provisions listed in the Bill specify that the Minister may grant or refuse a license to operate a livery subject to any terms and conditions deemed appropriate, and that the Minister may, at any time, vary the conditions attached to a license.

In considering an application, the suitability of the premises from which it is intended to operate a livery, the suitability of the equipment in such premises and the qualifications of the staff which it is proposed to employ in the operation of the livery will all be taken into account.

The Minister will have the power to revoke a license if it appears that there has been a material change in the suitability of the premises, equipment or staff connected with the livery since the license was granted; or that the licensee has not complied with any of the conditions attached to their license.

Additionally, no livery motor car will be permitted to be rented to a person under the age of 18 years or a person who does not hold a valid driver’s license.

The Ministry hopes to begin work on the regulations this summer, which will outline further criteria for the proposed industry and we shall consult with the various stakeholders further so there is a full understanding of the types of vehicles that may be licensed prior to the regulations being put into operation.

Let me now address a number of issues that have arisen in the last day or so as a direct result of misinformation being spread by the Shadow Minister of Transport – who I note has not made a single call or sent any email to the Ministry seeking clarification before speaking to the media.

1. This bill has not been brought to benefit any MP or Senator of the OBA. It is wholly disingenuous to suggest something like this. In fact this was directly spoken to by MP Glen Smith in today’s Royal Gazette.

2. This scheme will not have a detrimental effect on the taxi industry. The types of vehicles we are talking about are small and as I have outlined the cc’s of the vehicles under consideration simply would be unable to handle any more than a driver and a passenger. In fact visitor numbers are increasing and in my view they will continue to do so. Any small number of persons that may use one of the new vehicles will be offset by the rising numbers of tourists very easily.

3. The numbers on the road will be small – these vehicles are not inexpensive and would need to be properly stored and each livery would need to be approved by the Minister. The Shadow Minister would have you believe that thousands of vehicles will be suddenly on Bermuda’s roads. That is impossible given the way in which the regulations will be drafted and indeed the fact that these vehicles need to be stored. In point of fact even if an existing livery invested heavily in newly approved vehicles they would need a place to park those vehicles, most likely on their existing site – which would be far less in number than the numbers of scooters they currently possess.

4. The legislation was not brought by stealth. There have been ongoing discussions for many years about increasing the types of vehicles that might be made available to support our tourism industry. We have not elected to go with a full car rental piece of legislation since it simply would not make sense; rather we have chosen a halfway house to give additional safer options to our visitors. We need to decide whether we are in the tourism industry and give opportunities for Bermudians across the board to engage in servicing that industry. This scheme will do exactly that. In fact the only place other than Bermuda that I am personally aware of that does not allow anything other than a scooter for rent is Capri, Italy.

5. As regards parking, whilst the types of vehicles we are talking about are small, they would use a regular car parking space. However, by the very nature of the vehicle size requirements laid out in the proposed Act there will not be a detrimental effect on the number of spaces available overall. Put simply, the number of licensed vehicles on the road has decreased from a peak in 2008 of 51,215 to 47,692 in 2015 – a difference of 3523 vehicles; so there certainly is parking capacity – especially since we are talking about limited numbers of new livery vehicles – not thousands.

6. The Bill will provide new opportunities for Bermudian entrepreneurs to engage in the tourism industry and fill a gap in the market. In our heyday we had in excess of 6000 livery cycles on the road – today that number is approximately 2000. With tourism numbers on the rise, Bermudians will benefit.

Finally we have reached out this morning to the two largest taxi operator associations so that the Ministry can meet with them and alleviate any concerns. I am confident that this initiative will benefit Bermudian entrepreneurs and be an asset to our tourism product. I am happy to answer any questions.

Thank You.

By Ceola Wilson

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