Road licence dispute

Operators argue with regulator about scrapped 'takeover service'

Senior staff reporter

Monday, November 12, 2018

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The Transport Authority says it will not roll back the “takeover service” that it discontinued in 2017, which allowed public passenger transport operators who were opting out of the sector to pass on their licences to a person of their choice.

Since last week, some operators have been up in arms clamouring for a review of the policy.

Usually the takeover service involved the passing on of a licence to a family member whom the operator wished to continue the business.

“The takeover allowed persons [for example] who had a child or someone who they want to continue the business to say to the authority a family member wants to continue this business and so I would like to have them continue but I'm coming out of the business, ” Customer service manager at the Transport Authority Petra Keane Williams explained in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

However, she said the regulator discovered that people have been abusing the system by selling their licences along with the vehicles.

“The legislative framework for public transportation prohibits the sale or transfer of a road licence, so once that type of transaction comes into play then it is an illegal transaction. So we discontinued that process,” she stated.

Williams pointed out that a road licence is the property of the Government of Jamaica, and is not for operators to dispose of as they wish. She argued that this has been made clear in legislation governing the sector.

“It cannot be sold or transferred to another individual. That was the situation from the outset; it is not a new rule, it has always existed. It is part of the legislative framework for public transportation, so when persons got into the business they would have known that the licence is not transferable, neither is it something that can be sold by the operator,” she stated.

But the heads of two public passenger transport groups — Egeton Newman, president of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS), and Louis Barton of the Jamaica Association of Transport Owners and Operators (JATOO) — take a different view.

Newman said his group does not believe the regulator should have the right to decide new ownership of the licences.

“It's your property, it's your goodwill. If you want to sell that licence you need to be able to sell that licence… it (the policy) needs to be revisited. If I go and purchase a licence for $95,000 I should be able to sell back that licence to somebody whether for less or for more. We don't think [the] Transport Authority should have that sort of authority to take back the licence and give it to somebody of their choice [and] not of the choice of the owner,” he told the Observer.

Last week, TODDS called on the transport minister to consider an immediate review of the discontinuation of the takeover service, complaining that hundreds of bus operators are affected, as they want to quit the sector but are unable to sell their units because they cannot sell the licence as well.

“We have a man who has five coaster buses, he can't find drivers for three and he is willing to sell but nobody is willing to buy the buses without the licence. There are scores of persons who want to come out of the business but they don't know what to do because they can't sell the buses without the licence,” Newman said.

“They can try to get a licence but it can take them years to get a route licence. The licensing period only opens once every two or three years. If I want to sell my bus today, that person who wants to buy my bus will have to wait another two or three years because licensing closes at the end of this month,” Newman added.

But Williams pointed out that under the Transport Authority's ongoing public transportation liberalisation pilot project, which ends this month, individuals can apply for available routes as well as hackney carriages and contract carriage road licences.

“I am not aware of the concern that the licences are taking years for persons to get them… we have received in excess of 5,300 applications so that suggests to me that people are making applications for the routes that they are interested in or for the licence type that they are interested in,” she said.

JATOO's Barton argued that operators should not have to beseech the Government to pass their property to someone else. “It's a private operation, and you should be able to pass it on… What we are asking is that the private operators be considered private business people and you have ownership rights of a licence,” he said. The only objection, he said, should be against the sale of the licence to someone who has committed a criminal offence.

“The Government has no right to determine how much that licence is sold for, or to whom it is sold. It's just like you're buying a house, the Government shouldn't say whether you're able to buy that house from me… it's a private business deal, that's how we are looking at it,” he stated.

At the same time, Newman conceded that there have been issues in the system, but his concern is with the excessive amounts that some people have been selling licences for, not the sale of the licence itself.

“We learnt that there are some persons in the taxi business who have been selling the taxi and the licence for an exorbitant amount of money. Let's say a taxi licence is for $15,000, they would sell it for $100,000 or $150,000… when you sell a licence for an exorbitant amount of money, then there is a problem,” Newman said.

But he suggested that the authority could impose its own requirements on the purchaser, such as proof of character, and proof of price being paid for the unit, in order to satisfy itself that the purchase is above board.

Barton emphasised that the larger issue at hand is the state of the public transportation sector.

“We need a national public passenger transportation policy that determines where we are going with transportation. Changing the law to make the operators own their licence is a long-term strategy for the improvement of transportation, who owns it, how it is passed on and how is it regulated,” Barton argued.

He said the current restriction encourages underhand behaviour among some operators, as some people may pass the licence on to others while maintaining the pretence that they are still operating.

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