'Robot taxi' operators protest after colleague murdered

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, April 14, 2018

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PRESIDENT of the Jamaica Association of Transport Owners and Operators (JATOO) Louis Barton is calling on the Transport Authority to offer road licences to taxi operators in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region.

He made the appeal yesterday during a protest by robot taxi operators, who offer their services from Duhaney Park to Half-Way-Tree. They were protesting the brutal slaying of one of their colleagues on Thursday.

Forty-four-year-old Christopher Palmer of Derby Terrace, Kingston 20, was reportedly shot dead on Washington Boulevard and his car stolen.

The taxi drivers, who staged protests on Washington Boulevard, in Duhaney Park and in Half-Way-Tree, withdrew their services yesterday morning.

Reports from the Constant Spring police are that about 8:30 pm, Palmer, who police believe operates a robot taxi, picked up two male passengers near the intersection of Molynes Road and Washington Boulevard.

Shortly after, explosions were heard and his body was reportedly thrown from his vehicle near Lindsay Crescent.

The suspected killers escaped in Palmer's motor car. However the vehicle was later found on Maxfield Avenue in St Andrew.

Barton, who was in solidarity with the taxi operators, said: “We are here to support them. We are here to also say that there is a regulatory need for transportation in the KMTR (Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region), and by extension Jamaica.

“I just don't see how the needs of the public are being served by not giving operators licences to operate within the KMTR. There are a number of white-plate operators out here. We are not saying that you should operate with white plates, but there is a need for the operation; there is a need for cars,“ he continued. “The few buses that they have on the road cannot do it. Transport Authority have to come in. They have to grant some licences so that people can move up and down, so that the operators can make some money and take care of their lives.”

In the meantime, veteran taxi operator Paul Price, otherwise known as Rat Bat, who told the Jamaica Observer that he last spoke to Palmer on Thursday, was at a loss for words.

“Me and him very close, yeah man, me and him very close. A nuh see wi see one another and say wi a friend, wi a good brethren, very good brethren,” he said. “Me cyaah believe when I get the phone call because him just leave from beside me, you understand, and because him see one police him a tell the other man say nuh park in front of him cause him a leave right now, 'cause him see a police a walk a come. Is a man weh very afraid, you know them way deh, when it come on to police,” Price said.

Price, who appeared subdued, said even though he's not aware of the cause, he would like to see more police officers on Washington Boulevard. Although it might seem a bit contradictory coming from a robot taxi operator, Price said it is better when the police are on patrol.

“A nuh every police just ago pull you out and seize the vehicle, a nuh all a dem enuh, yuh understand? You know how to deal with it when you see some 'cause you ago try elude them. You are going to take a different road, but at night some section of the Boulevard is very dark and you have man a stand up behind light pole. When you pull over to let off somebody, somebody just appear in the vehicle. You as a taxi man now, not even [paying attention] say him just a come from behind dah pole deh. You think a smaddy run come ketch the car.

“So if mi a go up the road now and a police stop me and search all the car, me alright with that. Mi only nuh want him put it on di wrecker. If him even a write mi one ticket mi nuh have nuh problem,” Price reasoned.

Another operator, Andre Williams, otherwise called Pit Bull, said he, too, was saddened by the brutal slaying of his colleague.

“Him a one good youth. Him come in a the road and him fit in with wi. Is a youth weh helpful and him always a laugh, yuh dun know, a mi brethren dat,” Williams said, adding that he and Palmer became friends more than a year ago.

Williams said he last spoke to Palmer hours before his demise.

“Mi pass him yard about 3 0'clock and saw him car, call him and asked him wah gwan. Him say him soon come a road,” Williams recounted.

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