Editorial

After massive increase in road licences, the taxi horse has long bolted

Thursday, November 28, 2019

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We have no doubt that Prime Minister Andrew Holness is sincere in his desire to curtail the traffic nightmare caused especially by lawless taxi operators in the Corporate Area and town centres across the island.

If for nothing else, Mr Holness will soon be calling an election which he is more likely to win if his Administration, specifically his transport minister, can bring this disorder on the roads under much stricter management.

A zero-tolerance clampdown on taxi disorder would take effect early next year, Mr Holness pledged to rapturous cheers from Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters at their annual conference last Sunday at the National Arena in Kingston.

“I want the taxi men and road users as well to appreciate that there can be no prosperity in chaos and disorder,” the prime minister declared. We hardly have the heart to tell him that the taxi horse has long bolted.

The Transport Authority, which is an agency of the Ministry of Transport, has in no small manner contributed to the unmanageable number of marauding taximen on the road by doubling the number of road licences granted, amidst the terror that was already prevailing.

The ministry was well aware of that lawless bunch who generally could not care less about the rules of the road. They park or stop any and everywhere, pick up or let off passengers in the middle of the streets, overtake at pedestrian crossings, run red lights, and honk their horns in silence zones like schools and hospitals.

They jostle for passengers and would seemingly run over children or old people to pick up anyone resembling a commuter standing at or near a bus stop, and curse or threaten anyone who objects to their lawlessness.

But, ignoring all the madness, the ministry and Transport Authority approved a whopping 22,274 new and renewed licences in the period 2018-2019, compared with 10,076 in the similar period 2017-2018, based on figures obtained through the Access to Information Act.
The unprecedented number of licences granted include 16,481 to route taxis in the Kingston Metropolitan Area and the rural areas. This compares with 8,805 the previous year.

It has long been suspected that much of the indiscipline is caused by route taxis and robot taxis. How could they have not known that such a sudden jump in the number of taxis on the road would have only added to the historical disorderliness. The Transport Ministry has a great deal to answer for.

What explains this seemingly unprecedented number of taxi licences? Could it be a matter of the Transport Authority scrambling for more money or, even worse, someone's effort to bolster the employment numbers? Can the market sustain such high volumes of hackney carriages and route taxis?

In this context, there is little comfort in Mr Holness's promise that next year there would be a programme to have smart technology, including cameras, at every single traffic light in the Corporate Area. These guys will overrun any system.

Last August, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) launched the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement (PSTE) Branch, which was a merger of the Motorised Patrol and Traffic divisions. Has anyone seen this unit?


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