The board of the Marshall Islands Development Bank (MIDB) launched a pilot taxi project late last year by first opening its doors for applications by taxi drivers — arguably people the most in need of a higher source of income. In other words: taxi service 2.0, with upgrades for both drivers and customers.
Initially, the project should have been limited to a pilot of only five cars — but since the initial five showed immediate positive results and there were so many applications, with some still pending, MIDB ended up buying 21 cars by Christmas. Except for two cars, all the vehicles remain in top condition.
The upside to the MIDB project is that each vehicle is on a three-year loan plan with 8.5 percent interest. While a driver must turn in a requisite $20 towards a “savings” — which is supposed to cover insurance and maintenance costs — he, as all the applicants are men, must also meet a “turn-in” amount every week. The vehicle plan supported by MIDB is making it possible for Marshall Islanders to reengage in a big way in a taxi industry that has been dominated by Asian businesses for the past two decades.
Despite loan payments, drivers testify to the benefits of the project. In particular, one spoke up during a meeting this week with an MIDB representative and the rest of the lucky chosen ones. From the start it was obvious this individual had a spring to his step, and he confided with a huge smile that it was due to being able to eat delectable but pricey beef — a scrumptiously wonderful first for the whole family after he took on the MIDB project to own his own taxi and ending his time being a driver for a Chinese-owned taxi service.
There are issues, though, as the MIDB project coordinators have seen recently. While customers praise the exterior and interior cleanliness of the cars and the non-bumpy, screech-less rides there are certain catches to these vehicles. For one, the loan agreements prohibit renting these vehicles to another driver. Unfortunately, this has been done twice, resulting in accidents. The two accidents involved drunk driving.
These cases raised issues with the board, calling for this week’s meeting with drivers. More than half showed up. While rules were reiterated, the meeting served as the very first all-drivers meeting where they were provided with information such as the fact that the government, seeing the unfairness wrought on the taxi drivers by their now former employers, wanted to help — and so they came up with pilot taxi loan project.
MIDB’s goal is to see the drivers/owners use the vehicles as a source of better income and to be able to clear the loan within three years.
As for the other side of the coin, MIDB also expects the drivers to take care of their passengers, as the project is, in the long run, a public program. To prove this point, each driver is required to display a taxi identification card complete with his picture, full name, service name, cell number, plate number, and even their village location.
At the moment, the bank is working on getting portfolios of the drivers to send them out to the ministries who can utilize their services for transport. All in all, things are looking up for the first 21.
Read more about this in the April 6, 2018 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.