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VIDEO: Taxi drivers 'under pressure', protest new Road Traffic Act

Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

OPERATORS of public passenger vehicles (PPV) who ply the Mountain View to Half-Way-Tree route in St Andrew, yesterday withdrew their services in protest of the proposed amended Road Traffic Act, which they say will likely put an end to their livelihood.

The new Road Traffic Act, which will repeal and replace the existing 1938 Act, was passed with amendments in the House of Representatives last week Tuesday. The amendments have been sent to the Senate for approval.

“The police have us under so many pressure out here, more than any other civilians because we are transporting passengers from point A to point B. Without us transporting the people to point A to B, there would be no work,” taxi operator Kirk Baker told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“The Jamaican Urban Transport Company (JUTC) [buses] alone cannot carry the people them. The JUTC break down, it is not a good service. We come together as taxi operators now, start transporting people left, right and centre, and now it is like we a criminal, we commit a crime [or] we doing a great offence, and that is not right. There is none of us working who leave our home and come out here to just get [traffic] ticket. We have a family and we have responsibility,” Baker continued.

Scores of commuters were left stranded as PPV operators parked their taxis on Hope Road in the vicinity of Winchester Business Centre and Brooklyn Supermarket. They were adamant that their issues and concerns needed to be addressed, with some of them even causing passengers to disembark taxis belonging to their colleagues who sought to capitalise on the strike under the watchful eyes of police officers.

Another operator, who declined to give his name, said that gunmen are safer than taxi operators.

“The eyes are on taxi operators only, because daily in the streets right now, a man wi a walk pass with him gun while a policeman a write up ticket and the man gone kill somebody. Mi see it happen 'round a Derrymore Road last week. How much police in a Half -Way- Tree? Do the stats — about 50 police inna Half-Way-Tree and dem go right there suh go kill a businessman.

“The business people dem not even safe while dem a hunt taxi men. Put more police to crime, just drive through Half-Way-Tree in the mornings or evenings and just observe what you see. A we dem hunt down. Anything weh have on red plate dem hunt down,” another operator Richard Turnbull bemoaned.

Turnbull argued that taxi operators deserve to be treated with more respect, given the fact that they are contributing to the country''s economy.

“I have been protesting for many years... Imagine a badge is not as important as a driver's licence, but the fine weh yuh get fi a badge is far higher than not having a drivers licence, and you cannot use the badge with outside entities as a form of identification, so it is just a blunt hustle. Taxi operators contribute a lot of money to Jamaica's economy. Each taxi operator that you see, they use $2.odd million alone per year on gas. We have to go to the depot twice for the year... Dem raise dem road licence; we have to pay higher insurance, you have people paying $300,000, $400,000 for their insurance,” he complained. “The Government get taxes from these things.... It unfair.”

They also claimed that they have being targeted by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force for not wearing a badge that they are yet to receive from the Transport Authority.

Customer service manager at the Transport Authority, Petra Keane Williams, told the Observer that the agency had a meeting with representatives of the Jamaica Association of Transport owners and Operators to discuss issues regarding the lack of parking facilities, insufficient supply of trained drivers and processing of driver badges, as well as the proposed amendments to the Road Traffic Bill, whereby motor vehicle owners will be accountable for the traffic tickets of the drivers.

She noted that during the meeting, some operators who have police records stated that the procedure to obtain their badges is taking more than the two weeks slated for them to be processed and issued.

“We had asked them to provide the specific persons who are so affected, so that we could investigate the specific concerns, individually, because our procedure for persons with criminal records is possible two weeks. The other concerns they had about the badge was... another operator wanted the training to be rescheduled and there was some breakdown in the communication, because when he was called to do the training he was out of town so he was not able to do it on the specified date, and now we have extended to him to give us the information so we can once again resolve the concern,” she said.

Additionally, Williams said there were also concerns about the badge taking more than the two weeks to be issued because operators had outstanding tickets.

However, she explained that the agency usually issues a temporary badge in this case, and the operator would be granted six months to clear outstanding tickets.

In a release yesterday, the Transport Authority stated that the protest by the taxi operators had come as a surprise, and apologised to commuters for the inconvenience caused by the action.

The release said, too, that the authority had received information that there might be plans by some “unscrupulous persons” to stone JUTC buses in a bid to force them off the road.

“Whilst the Transport Authority supports the right of any person or group of persons to peacefully protest, the authority objects to others creating mayhem on the nation's roadways and would advise against any such attempt to damage Government property. The authority is urging the leadership of the transportation associations to join in helping to prevent unscrupulous persons from indulging in any such illegal activity,” it said.

In addition to the concerns raised by PPV operators, they also pointed out that out that despite the proposed amendments to the Road Traffic Act, a taxi stand or a designated parking area has not yet been identified for them.

“Dem set we in a Half-Way-Tree and downtown Kingston, dem set wi fi wi can park up out deh suh so dem can get ticket fi live off a wi; dem nuh give us no taxi stand. Dem gi we one road weh wi have to run come and thief two people jump inna di car and shoot down the road — that is how dem deal wid we.

“Dem deal wid we like we a criminal and a full time now dem fi look out fi wi. When yuh guh a town, yuh affi run round di park all three times, four times, fi get a load fi go up the road... Dem nah advocate fi give we a park a Half-Way-Tree and down a town, like everywhere yuh guh in a country area, you see a taxi park or a bus park, so why we can't get a park?” one taxi operator lamented.