The liberalisation of Caribbean services via the Internet

Liberalisation, it is not just limited to telecoms and other utilities. A broad range of (retail) services have been dominated by commercial entities, some of which were protected under the law. Here, starting with the Uber situation in Trinidad and Tobago, we discuss the changing paradigm that has been occurring in the Caribbean, of individuals now delivering those services.

Since the New Year, and especially last week, there have been a number of articles in Trinidad and Tobago newspapers on Uber, which is appears to be embroiled in a few controversies since the platform launched earlier this month. For those who might not be aware, Uber is a online transportation platform that uses a mobile/cellular application (app) to connect driver-partners and riders.

In cities and countries where Uber operates, an individual use the app to request a ride, and a driver of a private vehicle (but it could also be a taxi driver), who is available and nearby, responds to the request, for a known fee. According to the Daily Herald, Uber is in three Caribbean countries:  the Dominican Republic, since November 2015; Puerto Rico, since July 2016; and Trinidad and Tobago, having launched service on 15 January 2017.

However, although Uber was known to have had extensive consultations with Trinidad and Tobago stakeholders prior to its launch, two critical but connected challenges have emerged: First, the Minister for Works and Transport has alleged that Uber’s operations are illegal, as private drivers are being made to contravene the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act, as they do not posses a taxi driver licence (Source:  Daily Herald). Second, and in addition to being concerned about “Uber drivers” contravening the laws, local insurers are worried about the follow-on implications for insurance coverage and claims (Source:  Trinidad and Tobago Guardian).