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Taxi operators feeling the COVID-19 pinch

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

TAXI operators in St Catherine are feeling the COVID-19 pinch as, with orders laid down by Government that taxis only carry three passengers, their earnings have taken a nosedive in recent weeks.

The operators say not only are they pocketing less, but they are now extremely worried about falling behind on motor vehicle loan repayments, which they owe to a number of financial institutions.

The taxi operators plan to seek audience with their financial institutions, but, in the meantime, they are seeking a waiver of late fees for road licences, which became due Monday. They note the two-week extension granted by the Transport Authority, but say they are seeking further leniency with the waiver.

Vice-president of the St Catherine Taxi Association Vinroy Morrison told the Jamaica Observer that “many times you go out there yuh nah get no work. Most people scared of coming on the road and many of the operators are scared, too, because nobody would want to catch that virus [and] bring home”.

He said the membership of his group operates in Linstead, Ewarton, and Spanish Town.

“If the operators would [normally] work $6,000 per day and buy gas, it cut down some days. Even me, from this thing happening don't go on the road. And I hear many of the operators saying dem out there for the whole day and they can't make even $3,000, and by the time they make that and buy gas, they're way behind their margin — and some working for other people,” he explained.

Morrison said the association is trying to come up with solutions but, in the meantime, the just-over 400 operators remain between a rock and a hard place.

“...This scenario just come in the wrong time when many people don't know where to turn,” he said, noting that many of them have new loans, some of which have weekly due dates.

“When you can't make the quota to make your payments, that's where problem come in,” Morrison said.

The vice-president said the association plans to write to financial institutions this week, hoping for a positive adjustment in those credit arrangements, such as a reduction in interest rates.

“We gonna seek some feedback and see how best they can assist the members,” he said.

Head of the Bog Walk and Linstead Taxi Association, Michel Taffe Hinds is not only worried about a similar problem facing her operators, but also the renewal of road licences. She said half of her members do not have the funds to renew those licences.

“The Government says it gives us two weeks' extension before applying late fees, but we find it very complicated right now because of the COVID virus because we can't work as normal. We have to be taking two [passengers] at the back, and one at the front. The owners are complaining that the drivers are coming in, some with $5,000, some with $10,000. Normally, for a week, we could get up to $20,000,” she lamented.

Taffe Hinds said many owners have parked their vehicles as a result.

The taxi operators provide service to the entire parish, she said.

“It is very hard on the owners and the operators, especially persons who take loans. I don't think they will [be] dropping any rates or anything... the members are crying out...this isn't caused by us; it's nature,” she stressed.

She called on the transport ministry to extend the grace period without a late fee, and suggested that to further assist operators, the Government could consider temporary suspension of the current gas tax.

“For the loan entities, they could give them even three months to come back on their feet,” she urged.

Taffe Hinds said fewer than 300 of her association's approximately 650 members are ready for road licence renewal. She noted that the National Council of Taxi Associations, of which she is a member, has written to the Government outlining the plight of taxi operators.