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Westmoreland Western MP, educator call for bike taxis to be formalised

Observer West reporters

Thursday, January 14, 2021

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GRANGE HILL, Westmoreland Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament for Westmoreland Western, Morland Wilson, has added his voice to calls for bike taxi operations in the parish to be formalised.

He argues that bike taxis play an important role in the transportation sector, stressing that “bikes have emerged as an important part of our culture and as such, we have to embrace it.”

“I want bike taxi operators to continue earning an income from their business, supporting their families and building better communities. As the MP, I want these small enterprises to grow, but grow in a safe and sustainable way,” Wilson told the Jamaica Observer West.

“... I will go further to say that in a few years, bikes may be a tourist attraction. Bikes may become a tourist attraction for Westmoreland Western. Negril, as you all know, is a massive tourist attraction. Tourists are coming here for the sun and the other stuff, sinsemilla. But, now you see that we are emerging in a culture… where bikes are a prominent tourist attraction. People will fly from across the world to jump on a bike with the guys and rally through the towns.”

Principal of Grange Hill High School Errol Stewart in stressing the importance of the bike taxi operations to the transport sector, said “the service is here to stay.”

“Bikers are here to stay because there is a very important need that they are satisfying, transportation…it has to be regularised, but it must be done safely and within everything as it relates to the law,” Stewart told bikers at a training programme for motorcyclists at the Grange Hill High School in Westmoreland recently.

He argued that “the bike taxi business is what will put food on the table for your families and send your children through university.”

“You see like how I work, and the ministry [of education] pays me, and the other people work and them get paid, that is what you use [motorcycles].

“It is not we alone want a house. It is not we alone children can go to university, bikers can go to graduation and walk up to stand beside their daughters or sons graduating from university.”

The illegal practice of transporting commuters on the back of motorcycles has been flourishing in Westmoreland despite attempts by the police to clamp down on the trade, especially in light of frequent crashes, some fatal.

The operators have been capitalising on the reluctance of minibus and route taxi operators to ply several routes in the parish, due mainly to poor road conditions.

Areas served by bike taxis in Westmoreland include the resort town of Negril, Grange Hill, Little London, Sheffield, Broughton, Little Bay, Orange Hill, Good Hope, Develand, and Revival.

“The whole bike taxi service has expanded exponentially over the past few years and bikes are big business and hundreds of them are involved in Westmoreland,” Wilson pointed out.

He stressed, however, that the issue of safety must form an important component of the regularisation of the bike taxi operations.

“It [safety] is something that needs to be addressed through policies and laws and I don't think that we are there yet, but it is a discussion that we need to have in terms of how we proceed with bike taxis,” said the first-term MP.

He noted that the majority of the bikers ride without helmets, without shoes and proper safety gear. As a result, he said, when there is an accident, the chance of survival is very low.

“Some are left physically disabled while others succumb to their injuries,” Wilson argued, adding that Westmoreland accounts for most of the motorcycle crashes.

Meanwhile, the Grange Hill High principal disclosed that several issues are affecting the bike taxi operators and as such, they are being encouraged to form an association.

“I spoke to some of the young men…and we are going to look at getting a little association going because they have concerns also. Sometimes people are not there to listen to them and they feel like nobody is listening to them. So, I am encouraging them to form a little association,” stated Stewart.

Gavin Campbell, a hotel worker, who resides in Broughton in Westmoreland, uses bike taxis as his mode of transportation between his community and Little London, occasionally.

He pointed out that while both motorcars and motorcycles are available on the route as taxis, a motorcycle is a faster mode of transportation.

“Sometimes it is because of timing. Where I live, you don't get the cars on time to make your schedule or to get to work on time, I would have to take a bike taxi,” stated Campbell.

Besides, Campbell said fares on bike taxis can be cheaper than cars. He noted that in some cases it would cost between $150 and $200 on a car for transportation on a particular route, while it would cost about 50 per cent less on a bike taxi for the same distance travelled.

Campbell said though, that the concern he has with motorcycles is the issue of speeding.

“Some of them you can talk to, but some of them, you can't talk to. But otherwise, I don't have any safety problems apart from speeding,” he emphasised.

The commuter noted that while he hasn't been involved in any accidents while travelling on a bike, he is aware that there have been several fatal crashes involving motorcycles in the parish in recent years.

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