I wrote a few weeks ago about the airport Taxi touts in Panama but this is not that story. In the Bahamas, taxi zones are in place and are especially expensive for short distances. While you might think this will help Bahamians it actually hurts them.
Zone Taxis in Nassau
Welcome to the Bahamas where not everything is expensive, it’s just expensive to get where things are less expensive. For the few short miles (about a 15 minute ride from the airport to the hotel) we were first in the cab there was a standard rate of $22 +$4 per passenger and then an additional charge per piece of luggage. Frankly, this is a fair price and cheaper than the hotel car by a few dollars. There are usually extra charges with servicing the airport and in the case of the Bahamas that surcharge is a dollar.
While I am fine with a flat rate from the city to the airport and return, it’s the other zones that are ridiculous. Here is a breakdown of the zones. These prices just increased in April of 2017.
Why This Hurts Taxi Drivers
Yes, I understand that the Bahamas are not a bargain basement destination; there is some assumption that money is a thing in the islands and you should have an awful lot of it. Let’s agree that. Let’s also agree that I am tolerant of paying more when I get more and paying less when I get less.
Costs are so high priced that it is prohibitive for families (or even single people) to move around the island. Just three miles from the Baha Mar mega-resort is Nassau’s Fish Fry, a block of Bahamian restaurants. Downtown Nassau and the Straw Market were just a little farther down from there. We went to just the Fish Fry, just once the entire time we were in the Bahamas, though had transportation been less expensive we would have eaten there daily.
While some taxi drivers welcome zone pricing (I spoke with one who loved it), they are not capturing all available market capacity. There were several opportunities to capture incremental business from the five in our party and I am sure others, who popped over for a quick weekend from the eastern United States. We used a taxi for just two round trips, one to and from the airport and another to and from the Fish Fry. The three miles from Baha Mar to the Fish Fry was $29 each way for the four adults and one child in our party, the distance was 3.8 miles. The airport was a few dollars higher and about the same distance. The below calculations do not include the additional members in our party.
We would have gone off resort to eat every night and been more likely to visit other attractions away from the property, but instead we avoided the $60 taxi tax and didn’t venture out.
Why This Hurts Other Bahamians
If you own a restaurant in town, or perhaps a souvenir shop you didn’t get any of my business. Instead of trying a local coffee shop, it was Starbucks in the east wing of the property. Instead of fresh caught fish on the pier we ate nachos and noodles on the property.
We loved the conch fritters at Two Brothers and fully intended to stop back to eat some four-pound lobsters from another stall at the Fish Fry, but when the taxi ride in is more expensive than dinner for four adults, it seems a little hard to justify.
We just didn’t go into town and why would we? We had everything we could need for a long weekend visit at our disposal just a few feet away? Why bother to get a taxi, use cash (when everything else could be put on a room charge), ride into the unknown only to be unsure of the quality we would find on the other side? How does the zone taxi policy help Bahamians who are not taxi drivers?
No Uber, No Lyft
Uber is not available on the islands, nor Lyft. There is competition to the taxi system in a new app GetMeRide but none of the staff at the hotels knew it eve existed and there’s no evidence it would offer cheaper private taxi operations. One could also consider local buses which run during restrictive daylight hours only but cost just $1.50/person each way.
I love Uber and Lyft for helping utilizing available market capacity. I can also understand why some governments have hesitations about the service. Uber and Lyft drivers are not evaluated for their ability to operate with passengers safely in a commercial operation. It seems a fair expectation that the government should have a watchful eye on services sold to their citizens, especially those involving transportation. Does the driver who has an under utilized car benefit from the zone rates?
Who Wins? Not Bahamians
Say what you will about how we missed out on the cultural elements of the islands, I wouldn’t disagree. This is one of my issues with the Caribbean in general and especially all-inclusive hotels – there is almost no cultural integration and local experience. (Grand Hyatt Baha Mar is not all-inclusive but we treated it that way by eating every meal on property and billing it to the room.)
Taking advantage of my Hyatt Globalist status, my family ate breakfast every day in the lounge without spending a dime. We often filled up on snacks in the afternoon or even ate a full dinner if we were not headed to one of the restaurants on property. When we did eat, it was only on property restaurants trying out Celo, Fi’La, Stix, and several pool area restaurants. We also bought some Baha Mar clothing and souvenirs to remember our trip, and yet we would have been far more likely to buy more from the Straw Market had we made it there.
By the Bahamas instituting zone pricing for taxi services and excluding market disruptors like Uber and Lyft from entering the islands they have taken money out of their own citizens’ pockets. Instead the islands have given the hotels (internationally-owned) a captive audience at the expense of the wallets of local businesses.
Worst of all is that it takes away from the identify of the Bahamas. What makes the Bahamas different from Jamaica, the Cayman Islands or Trinidad and Tobago? I really couldn’t tell you. If guests stay only on resorts and doesn’t interact with local businesses and customs, I would argue that none of them are truly unique. That’s a disservice to Bahamian culture. It makes me less likely to return specifically to the Bahamas as opposed to just selecting a resort chain I like with pricing and availability to my preference.
Do you think the benefits of the Bahamas’ zone taxi scheme is worth the risks to the rest of the economy? Should I have just ignored the high rates and sucked it up – it’s the Bahamas?