National transportation model needed
A few days after announcing transportation fare increases for people who utilise the services of the government-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), the Government reversed the stated increase for senior citizens. Hence they will now be paying an increase of $20, thus making the fare cost at $40. The Andrew Holness-led Opposition Jamaica Labour Party has lashed out at the Government enunciating vociferously that, in these severely harsh economic times, no form of increases should be granted to the JUTC. I fully concur with this, simply put.
It is absolutely scandalous that the Minister of Transport, Housing and Works Omar Davies did not think it prudent to have consulted with the various sectors within the country before requesting an increase. This factually demonstrates the high-handed manner in which the Government is conducting the affairs of the country, headed by Portia Simpson Miller.
The fact of the matter is that the present People's National Party-led Government is totally disorganised and does not care one bit about the severe economic crisis which this country is presently in. And that is primarily why the Government, through the Cabinet, has formally approved fare increases for the JUTC which is overstaffed and administratively top heavy, costing taxpayers millions of dollars unnecessarily.
Look to MoBay
What Minister Davies should be extremely concerned about is the disorganised, ramshackled and chaotic state of the Montego Bay transportation system, where numerous robot taxis and buses are operating with vulgar impunity throughout the city and placing passengers' lives at risk. Many of these 'robot taxis' are not legally licensed, registered or insured to transport public passengers. Additionally, the current Montego Bay transportation centre, which is located on Barnett Street, needs to be expanded to at least a three-floor parking facility -- similar to that which now exists at Half-Way-Tree -- as the city's needs have outgrown the current space. Currently, the majority of route taxis are illegally using the streets of the city to conduct their taxi operations, which is contrary to the Transport Authority's issued route licence because the licence stipulates that all route taxis and buses should start and terminate at the Montego Bay Transportation Centre and failure to do so may result in the termination of the licence forthwith.
Those reckless, callous, undisciplined and lawless taxi operators are illegally using the streets to park and terminate their respective routes, thus causing the major traffic jams and congestion problems at various hours of the day, which is unacceptable, intolerable and requires the attention of the police and transport authority personnel. The authorities must ensure that all public passenger vehicles utilise the main transportation centre, as well as the satellite one which is located along Creek Street, to ensure that no taxi or bus flouts the law and unlawfully uses the streets of the city. It is full time for firm action to be taken in this regard.
The Mayor of Montego Bay and chairman of the St James Parish Council, Councillor Glendon Harris, along with the transport authority's Western Regional Manager Ralston Smith, and head of the St James police must begin to prudently take a zero-tolerance approach towards all taxi and bus operators, and under no circumstance should they be allowed to use the city's streets as they wish.
The Tourism Enhancement Fund could be constructively used to help expand the main transportation centre. The current facility does not have a perimeter wall, no proper passenger sheds have been erected inside, no parish council wardens have been assigned, the facility is poorly lit, thus posing a major security risk at night for all those who use the facility and, frankly speaking, the entire facility is being unprofessionally managed and this again is of such that it requires full ministerial attention.
The city of Montego Bay cannot continue to have a disgraceful transport system, where lawlessness is the order of the day and law-abiding motorists are being immensely hindered by virtue of the fact that the city's streets are being clogged up by highly irresponsible taxi operators who are a law unto themselves.
Take a ride on the Reading
The Montego Bay highway from Reading to Lucea requires proper lighting as accidents are taking place quite frequently at nights because of poor visibility. Also, the police need to regularly patrol that segment of the highway. The safety device legislation is not at all being effectively enforced throughout the parish of St James and Western Jamaica, and, therefore, it is of vast importance that the police take the requisite steps to vigorously enforce this piece of legislation which saves lives and concomitantly prevent injuries to all who travel in motor vehicles.
As a plan, too, the Road Traffic Act (1938) should be amended to make it illegal for drivers of motor vehicles to use cellphones while operating vehicles on the roadways and breaches should attract harsh penalty fines.
Reports emanating from the Ministry of Transport indicate that the minister is seriously contemplating amending the law as it relates to the issuing of driver's licences, and the proposal is that people who are legally issued with all types of drivers' licences should be tested every 10 years. That is a preposterous, patently ludicrous, and a totally unwarranted policy proposal. It would be a prodigious waste of time and not practically necessary at all.
What is of much import is for the minister to take the principal steps to revamp, restructure and upgrade the Island Traffic Authority (ITA); fully computerise the Authority and link it with the motor vehicle department of the island's 14 Inland Revenue Departments so as to ensure that the ITA is operated in an efficacious and professional manner. The ITA has not been operating properly for far too long and appropriate action is needed at this time to cauterise this grave problem.
Some time ago I was asked by a senior director of the ITA to conduct a broad study into the operations of the Authority, and I conducted same and thereafter provided my findings in a tabulated report. It highlighted the various inefficiencies within the ITA and the need for the Authority to be completely overhauled within a modern road safety framework.
Among my recommendations were to upgrade the salary structure for all categories of certifying officers from grades one to six; renovate and equip the examination depots throughout the island and implement new security features in all the documents which the authority uses and issues to its customers. This included documents such as the EI and E2 forms, certificate of competence forms, special permit forms, among other documents. It was also recommended that they install weight scales at each of the island's examination depots, establish transportation monitoring committees in each parish which would be chaired by the mayors, establish driving schools with certified driving instructors in each parish which would be operated and managed by the ITA.
Jamaica requires a modern, co-ordinated, highly organised, efficient, modern, inherently professional, and equipped transportation system. It is fundamentally imperative that the minister takes the steps to immediately see to this, not just raise fares. Over to you, Minister Davies.
Robert Dalley, Esq, BA is a corporate business manager and business strategist in Montego Bay. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org