TOA Taxi Stand continues to ‘overcharge’ despite notice of biz license suspension
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Commerce Department has suspend the business license for Taxi Owner’s Association (TOA) — referred to as TOA Taxi stand — which is at the center of complaints over their drastic increase of taxi rates, that became effective May 1st.
The Commerce Commission is the ASG entity that regulates public transportation — such as taxis and aiga buses, which includes setting fare rates.
Even as complaints mounted against the taxi stand, Samoa News continued to hear reports that taxi drivers from TOA Taxi continued to charge their high rates, despite a stern message from the Commerce Commission along with DOC to the taxi stand that taxi fares have not gone up, and for passengers to ignore such increases. (See Samoa News May 6th edition for details)
On Tuesday this week, a Samoa News staff member was told by a taxi driver from TOA Taxi that the owner was adamant that taxi drivers maintain their new fare hikes, and that the government “cannot touch us.”
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, DOC deputy director Uili Leauanae confirmed that TOA's taxi stand business license “has been summarily suspended for 120 days pending a hearing for revocation proceedings before the Territorial Planning Commission” scheduled for Sept. 3, 2019.
The suspension is due to the taxi stand, “implementing new taxi rates and charging the public for such rates without proper approval,” he said, adding that TOA was served with the suspension notice early this week.
He also says that TOA will have an opportunity to provide evidence and appear before the TPC on the hearing date to defend itself.
TOA TAXI STAND
The TOA Taxi Stand seems to be composed of several taxi operators directed by a dispatcher, who works for the stand. The dispatcher answers the phone(s) and directs the taxi drivers to pick up customers. It’s unknown if a fee is paid to the owner of the taxi stand in order for a taxi operator to be a member of the stand, or if they all just ‘share’ costs.
Samoa News should point out that each taxi operator, applies and is issued a separate business license and the Certificate of Convenience by DOC and the Commerce Commission.
Samoa News asked if the Commerce Commission or DOC has taken any specific actions against individual taxi drivers/operators from TOA Taxi stand for overcharging passengers. Leauanae responded, “This is still in progress, but it's been difficult because complainants refuse to provide their names and specific information — i.e. amount being charged, route, etc. — on violations they're complaining about.”
Samoa News contacted TOA Taxi Stand around 3:30 p.m yesterday, and a person — believed to be the dispatcher — answered the phone saying they are still operating. Asked about the suspension notice issued by DOC, the person said “no one came by” the stand, meaning the notice or letter of suspension was not delivered.
However, ASG officials said yesterday that TOA chairman and president, Emanuel Ulberg, did receive the suspension notice and signed it.
A copy of the suspension notice addressed to Ulberg and received by Samoa News revealed that Ulberg had previously been warned by the Commerce Commission vice chairman Steve Leasiolagi and DPS Officer Vaipuna “about discontinuing use of unapproved rates” and was also told about it, during a May 3rd meeting, but “you have continued to use your own rates in violation of the law”.
Ulberg wasn’t immediately available for comments and didn’t answer his cell phone yesterday afternoon.
Commerce Commission and DOC encourage the public to continue to report any violations with the needed information “so we can take action against specific drivers.” Information includes recording the vehicle’s license plate number, taxi driver’s name, and time and place — including route — of occurrence.
Click on attacent below to read copy of revocation letter.