Headline — 23 April 2013 — by Miriam Longsworth
Taxi drivers and CitCo clash over Battlefield Park

Taxi operators, the homeless and vendors must move to allow park renovations

There was chaos on Albert Street today, Monday, as taxi operators from the Battlefield Park vigorously protested being kicked from Battlefield Park, in the center of the city, because of renovations being done to the park by the Belize City Council.

The taxi operators, along with the vendors and homeless persons, have been told to evacuate the area in order for construction to get underway.

We visited the park today, where members of the two taxi unions that occupied the area, Downtown Taxi Cooperative and Albert Street Taxi Drivers Union, were addressing the media about their concerns.

Apparently, the taxi operators were told by the City Council that they would be allowed to park in the spaces behind the Supreme Court. Well, that plan did not sit well with the court administration because the City Council received a letter today instructing them to remove the taxi drivers from the area near the court.

Albert Robinson, a member of the Albert Street Taxi Drivers Union, said that the taxi operators were not duly informed of the changes that were to occur. He said there should have at least been a meeting with the taxi unions to discuss the plans with them.

Robinson said that the confusion is an inconvenience for them, because it was brought upon them too suddenly.

“We are upset mainly because we were not treated the way we were supposed to be treated, like being informed in advance,” he said. “It’s not even [a] week since I got to find out that we would have had to move from this car stand, not even a week.”

He said that, unlike the vendors, they did not receive any written form of notification that they would have to move from the location. He said they got frustrated with the sudden changes and decided to organize themselves. So they contacted the media to voice their concerns.

All the tension prompted a meeting this morning between Mayor Darrel Bradley and the taxi unions.

Darwin McKenzie, chairman for Downtown Taxi Cooperative, was present at the meeting, and he told the media that the discussion the taxi unions had with the Mayor went nicely, and they were able to agree on suitable arrangements for the operators.

McKenzie said that they were told that they would receive assistance in finding an alternative location for the next three months while the park is being renovated, and they would be allowed to return after the work is completed.

Steven Skeen, president of the Albert Street Taxi Drivers Union, was also at the meeting and he said that the Mayor said he was willing to assist in whatever way he could to ensure the operators continue their business. They were told that parking behind the court house was not practical, so an alternative would be worked out for them for the meantime. Also, they were assured that the taxi stands, now being broken down, would be replaced.

The Mayor was supposed to be out on Albert Street to address the taxi operators and the media on what was happening, or is going to happen, but that plan changed and the media was invited to a brief meeting in the Mayor’s office at City Hall this morning.

He assured us that the taxi operators’ business is not in peril, and they have worked out an alternative location for them to conduct their business. They have been offered spots on Albert and Church Streets to park their vehicles. Those locations will serve as a temporary measure until renovations are completed in about three months.

The spots on Albert Street in front of the park will be given back to the Albert Street Taxi Drivers Union.

The spots on Church Street and a few spots directly in front of Brodies on Albert Street will be offered to the other operators who were previously occupying spaces between Brodies and the park.

According to the plan for the restructuring of taxi operations, taxi cue lanes will be established on Prince Street and in the designated area on Church Street. Those cue lanes are to help alleviate the need for taxi parking spaces and will create a more organized taxi service.

The Mayor said that he blames late communication on their part for why the taxi drivers were not informed in a timely manner about the changes. He said the operators’ biggest concern was that they were not properly consulted. The Mayor said that he knows that much could have been avoided if they were properly consulted. But after the meeting with them today, things are now running smoothly, he said.

The Mayor was asked whether the Council is putting any measures in place in order to prevent a situation like this from occurring again. He said yes.
“We do have that and I know we are supposed to have that because we have managers on the ground; we have contractors who are in charge of each of these projects, who work at the City Council, and this is one of the reasons why we have engaged a full-time public relations person, because we want the information to get out there,” he said.

The Mayor said that the homeless individuals who were occupying the park will not be allowed to return to the area after renovations are completed. His reason was simple: the park is not there for anyone to live in.

As for the renovation plans, Mayor Bradley said the plans have been in motion for the past two years, under the previous administration, and as a part of a master plan that was also developed under that administration.

The Battlefield Park renovation project is to cost $394,000. It was designed by International Environment (I.E.), which is also doing the renovations for Memorial Park.

The plans for the park are to restore its historical appearance. The bandstand will be removed and the lane between the park and Belize Bank and the lane between the park and Brodies will be permanently closed and turned into a pedestrian way.

A median will be placed on Albert Street, which the Mayor said will help the traffic flow. An area for marches and demonstrations will also be established, as well as benches and greenery. A fountain is to be constructed in the center of the park and new kiosks will be established for vendors.

Although some complaints have been heard about the confusion being caused by all the renovations around the City, Mayor Bradley said that “progress will bring problems when one does any kind of infrastructure work.”

He said the reason for all the renovations is to stimulate economic development in Belize City. He added that the change is “a very good and positive idea for the Downtown area.”

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