MORE than 10,000 illegal taxi and bus operators across the island are the targets of a huge dragnet being cast by the police, insurance companies and potentially, the country's tax authorities acting together over the next few weeks.
The joint operation, to be led by the Police Traffic Department, could see scores of motorists losing their insurance coverage and their licences. And, if things go according to plan, they could be forced to pay over hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax arrears, as well as face prosecution and jail time for failing to properly register their vehicles and running them illegally as taxis.
Head of the Police Traffic Division Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis said police officials had met with the Insurance Association of Jamaica (IAJ) last Monday to chart a new course of action.
They came up with a plan, the first phase of which will target motorists operating their vehicles without proper PPV licences.
Lewis said the aim was to get the IAJ to block these operators when they attempt to renew their insurance policies.
The hard-nosed senior policeman said his department had already started to search the database at the traffic headquarters to compile a list of the motorists who would be targeted.
"Coming out of a meeting with the IAJ, a decision was made that the police will be putting together a list of names," SSP Lewis said, adding that the list could be ready this week.
"It will be a mammoth task to put together this list, but we are committed," he said.
Orville Johnson, executive director of the IAJ, said last week that his organisation was ready and waiting to work with the police and were awaiting this list of illegal operators.
He said that once the IAJ was provided with evidence and the names of persons who were engaged in the illegal activities, the association would not hesitate to block the renewal of insurance policies by the rogue operators.
Last week, Lewis publicly expressed dismay that some insurance companies continued to renew the policies of illegal operators who try to beat the system by registering their vehicles for private use instead of acquiring a public passenger vehicle (PPV) licence.
"They use white plates instead of PPVs to circumvent the revenue issue," he said of the cunning robot taxi operators.
However, Johnson told the Jamaica Observer that local insurance companies were doing all they could to clamp down on the practice.
Peter Levy, managing director of British Caribbean Insurance Company Limited, and vice-president elect of the IAJ, concurred.
"The operation of illegal taxi operators is something that is hurting the industry," said Levy.
In the meantime, Lewis said he hoped to add another dimension to the assault on illegal taxis and commuter buses by enlisting the aid of the 'tax man'.
He said that the police had begun discussions with Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) about ways to collect taxes owed by public transport operators who have avoided paying for regular motor vehicle licences instead of PPVs.
"Under this initiative, we want the police and insurance company to hit these motorists hard, but equally, for the tax authorities to target these individuals, and to also have them pay taxes from the billion-dollar operations of which they are a part," said Lewis.
"The transport business is a multi-billion-dollar industry for these operators. People from all sectors of the society are getting involved; from the religious leaders to the doctors, and even the police themselves," Lewis added. "It is a business that everybody is involved in, and they should be paying taxes for funds earned."
Last Monday, director of communications at the TAJ, Meris Haughton confirmed that the tax authority had started discussions with the police.
"It is something we have started to discuss. Nothing has been decided as yet, but we are open to the discussion," said Haughton.
Lewis explained that recent motor vehicle crashes involving illegal taxi operators had led to the multi-pronged assault. He said it was just over a week ago, on March 9, that nine persons were injured in an early-morning crash on Molynes Road near Half-Way-Tree in St Andrew, involving two robot taxi operators who were racing each other.
"For too long illegal transport operators have been putting members of the public at risk with their unprofessional conduct on the island's roads," said Lewis. "We expect this clean-up operation could place a major dent in their activities."
Since early last year, traffic police have been carrying out a series of initiatives to clamp down on rogue operators of public transportation.