PPV drivers renewing licences despite numerous road breaches

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

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The Transport Authority (TA) is insistent that it has been increasing enforcement and monitoring of Public Passenger Vehicle (PPV) operators, but a performance audit report points to drivers still being able to renew their licences despite racking up summonses for numerous violations.

The absence of a suspension and revocation policy has allowed some operators who have been issued multiple enforcement summonses to continue to operate. It cost the TA $4.8 billion between 2012 and 2017 to monitor the public passenger transport sector.

The Auditor General's investigations revealed that between 2012 and 2016 a total of 6,727 PPV operators were repeat offenders. Some had committed offences up to 50 times during the review period, according to the report, which the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) discussed with Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, permanent secretary in the transport ministry Alwyn Hayles, and head of the TA at Gordon House yesterday.

Monroe Ellis said her team found that 68,043 enforcement summonses were issued by the authority in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region between 2012 and 2017. There was an increase from 10,343 summonses in 2012-13 to 15,814 in 2016-17, with 66 per cent of the summonses issued to PPV operators. It was also revealed that 165 per cent of the summonses were related to the seizure of vehicles for operating illegally.

The PAC expressed concern that violations and outstanding summonses are not now considered a basis for the non-renewal of licences.

“Nobody has a right to a licence… a licence is a discretionary privilege granted by the relevant authority, and in deciding whether or not to renew, the conduct of the driver and the way in which they operate under the licence is something which should be taken into account… where there are outstanding summonses, how can that just be routinely ignored? The data suggest that the volume of application for licences is actually declining and the number of illegal operators may be growing, which suggests that they are operating with impunity,” committee chairman Mark Golding pointed out.

Member of Parliament for Manchester Central Peter Bunting said he was “astonished” that given the recommendations made some years ago, following a spate of fatal crashes involving PPVs, the TA was still not holding drivers' behaviour against them when licences come up for renewal.

Managing director of the TA Cecil Morgan explained to the committee that the long-discussed suspension and revocation policy is now before the authority's licensing committee. He said the policy would bar people who “continuously create problems for us on the road… when the time comes for renewal, that would be taken into consideration”.

Morgan indicated that there are also plans to start penalising operators/owners for violations committed by their drivers. “We are in agreement that there should be some liability to the owner, and that is part of what is being proposed as it relates to persons who would have been in breach… not only the drivers would be sanctioned, but also the owners would be sanctioned,” he stated.

The report also said no evidence had been found of a long-term strategy to discourage illegal operators, outlining that an inadequate supply of PPVs may have fostered the prevalence of illegal operators.

But Morgan argued that the TA is now producing the most licences in its history, pointing out that on average 53,000 licences are offered annually, but last year 59,000 were processed. He said that up to last week the TA had processed 6,000 more licences than for the similar period last year.

He also sought to allay concerns about the fact that 6,524 route taxi operators and stage carriage operators had surrendered their licences in 2016/17 while just 2,189 new licences were issued for the period.

Morgan emphasised that despite the large number of surrendered licences in comparison to new licences, because of the steps that the TA has taken to improve its processes, there has also been an influx of new entrants into the sector offsetting those who have left the system.

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