A fairly large crowd of people turned out for the July 9th public meeting to discuss the proposed vehicle census. Present were Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr., Mayoress Elsa Paz, Deputy Mayor Severo Guerrero, Councilors Nano Guerrero and Romel Gomez, Ambergris Caye Traffic Control Committee (ACTCC) Chairman Milo Paz Jr., Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce (ACCC) President Tom Vidrine and several concerned members of the community.
Mayoress Elsa Paz welcomed everyone attending and stated the importance of having an accurate number of the vehicles currently operating on the island. She then introduced the proposal for a moratorium, allowing no permits for new vehicles, until an accurate number of vehicles is obtained. Also planned is a voluntary re-registration of all vehicles on the island, free of charge, which will establish ownership and the legitimacy of vehicles presently on the island.
This voluntary re-registration is planned to take place on Sundays from 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. for a six-week period or until the census is complete. Different classes of vehicles will be registered every week. The Mayoress assured those attending that an amnesty period would be declared during re-registration. She also confirmed that no fines or penalties would be issued during the census and that registrants would not be checked for permits or insurance. The Mayoress stated that insurance companies would be on hand during registration to encourage compliance since this is a usual requirement of registration.
ACTCC Chairman Milo Paz Jr. then addressed the crowd stating that according to the Traffic Committee's current records, a total of 965 vehicles were registered on Ambergris Caye. He continued to quote the laws requiring that the Traffic Committee maintain an accurate record of vehicles on the island. He stated his committee has the responsibility of approving permits, and considers the census information to be vital in making informed and fair decisions when granting and issuing new permits. The Chairman stated the biggest problems appear to be the resale of vehicles to purchasers who have no permit to own a vehicle and titles not being transferred to new owners.
Mr. Paz also made it clear that those who did not participate in the census may be subject to vehicle forfeiture according to the law, stating citizens need to establish ownership of their vehicles, and apply for a permit in their name. Following the amnesty period, laws will be enforced with the assistance of the San Pedro Police. Chairman Paz stated that, according to the law, unregistered vehicles could be subject to $100 fine, a $10 per day impound fee (storage) and after six months, an impounded vehicle becomes the property of the San Pedro Town Council.
Mr. Paz reminded everyone that every vehicle needs written authorization by ACTCC. He reported that at a previous meeting, the Minister of Transport gave his word that Central Government will not override this authority.
The plan for the implementation of non-removable stickers for license plates was then introduced. It was explained that these stickers, placed at the time of registration, will need to be replaced annually (i.e. January) and will feature a different color every year. During the three month registration period, (i.e. January - April), there will be a possibility of two colors on license plates but by the end of the registration period (April) only one color will be legal the remainder of the year. Therefore, those vehicles not registered can be easily identified.
Following this explanation, several suggestions were discussed among those attending. Suggested were the following: 1) Limit the number of taxis. 2) The use of separate, numbered stickers for trucks and taxis - to identify those who violate traffic and safety laws. 3) Limit the number of privately owned motorized vehicles. 4) Register all taxis under one association for fair business practice, thereby creating less need for speeding due to less competition. 5) Assign spaces or parking spots for each taxi.
Some concerns were raised that "independent" taxi drivers were the cause of the problems. It was suggested that taxi drivers be required to be licensed like the tour operators. Taxi representatives attending the meeting stated that their association members have undergone proper training and already have their licenses, but that many drivers are brought in from outside the island to operate the independent taxis.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the more than 30 attendees all agreed to support the census and to discuss the outcome following the completion of re-registration.