Bus, taxi crackdown
WITHIN a matter of days, the police, in conjunction with at least one other State entity and local motor insurance companies, will introduce a system aimed at preventing rogue taxi and bus operators from obtaining insurance for their vehicles.
The initiative comes amidst widespread public outcry against the seeming inability of the police, the Transport Authority and other State agencies to restore order to a public transport system in which indiscipline reigns supreme.
Reckless driving, overloading and total disregard for other road users are just some of the actions being perpetrated daily across the country by taxi and bus operators, with tragic repercussions. In many cases, the ‘bad-driving’ results in serious crashes in which both adults and children on their way to and from school end up dead or maimed.
Last Tuesday, some 40 children sustained injuries when two buses transporting them collided along the Pen Hill main road in Manchester. Initial police reports suggested that the crash stemmed from improper overtaking, as the driver of one of the ill-fated buses was in the process of passing a truck in a no-overtaking zone.
The police have also confirmed that both drivers, prior to the accident, had been issued between them, more than 100 traffic tickets, many of which have not been honoured. In addition, one of the drivers had reportedly amassed 12 demerit points and, therefore, his driver’s licence should have been revoked.
While acknowledging that there have been serious shortcomings on their part, the police are now indicating that the new mechanism targeting drivers and owners of taxis and buses should result in a significant improvement on the roads.
Head of the constabulary’s traffic division, Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis told the Sunday Observer that discussions have taken place with motor vehicle insurers and a decision has been made to rigorously screen owners and designated drivers of taxis and buses before insuring their vehicles.
“The insurance companies are going to have an agent, and that agent is going to request from the police, records of drivers who want to be employed to drive minibuses and taxis. If you are an owner/driver, the same requirement will be in force. You will have to get a record from the police to show that you are squeaky clean. If you have violations, you will not be insured and therefore will not be able to drive public passenger vehicles,” said Lewis.
“The onus will be on the owner to make sure that the person he is employing to drive is squeaky clean. If you employ a man who shouldn’t be driving, then you will be charged for aiding and abetting him driving without insurance,” the tough-talking Lewis added.
For his part, head of the Insurance Company of the West Indies Paul Lalor said he is hoping that the new system works, even as he asserted that the chaos on the country’s roads, caused primarily by taxi and bus operators, cannot be allowed to continue.
Commenting on the recent crash in Manchester, Lalor said he was shocked when he was informed that one of the drivers involved had 40 outstanding traffic tickets. He questioned how such a violator was not caught by the relevant State agencies.
Lalor said he fully supported suggestions that the entire public transportation system should be controlled by the Government.
“You need to take these other modes of transport off the roadways or find a way to limit and control them to allow the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) to work properly,” he said. “You ultimately save money, not at the JUTC level, but you reduce accidents, you save money in the Ministry of Health and you save money in terms of the foreign exchange used to repair the cars.”
He also said the Government should explore awarding contracts to people capable of providing a safe public transportation service, similar to that offered by the privately run Knutsford Express.
“You use JUTC in Montego Bay, Mandeville, Kingston, the major hubs, and remove a lot of these route taxis that include the coaster buses which are nothing more than unguided missiles,” stated Lalor, who is also recommending that speed limiters be installed on all buses and taxis in order to ensure they aren’t driven above a certain speed.
Meanwhile, president of the National Parent Teachers Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ), Marcia McCausland-Wilson, said she supported the call initially made by member of parliament for North-East Manchester, Audley Shaw, for the introduction of a State-run bus service for students across the country.
Shaw has had to deal with several major road mishaps involving students travelling on public transportation in his constituency. In addition to last week’s crash in Manchester, Shaw last year joined many concerned Jamaicans who mourned the deaths of four persons, including three students of Holmwood High in Manchester, when a bus transporting them to school crashed into a wall.
McCausland-Wilson told the Sunday Observer that she had been conducting business in Manchester around the time of last Tuesday’s two-bus collision and was among the persons who went to the Percy Junor Hospital where the students were treated.
“No parent should be put through what I saw,” she said, as she painted a picture of the grief-stricken adults rushing to the hospital upon hearing their children were involved in that horrific crash.
Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon-Harrison, is also among the increasing number of stakeholders exploring options that could be pursued by the Government and other entities to address the indiscipline that often results in motor vehicle collisions. Like others, she is batting for the introduction of a State-controlled transportation system for students, however, she has acknowledged that such an initiative might prove difficult for the cash-strapped Government.
“The only way we can break it is to find some way to get to that system where we have at least two State-controlled, dedicated school buses in each parish,” she said.
The children’s advocate also emphasised the need for more vigilance on the part of entities such as the Transport Authority and the Road Safety Unit, which she said had worked hard but had not been very successful in achieving the desired results.
Education Minister Ronnie Thwaites said correcting the problem will need much more than designated State-owned buses and argued that too many drivers of public passenger vehicles bought their licences and shouldn’t be on the road in the first instance.
“I see the issue of transporting students as a sensitive part of an overall rethinking of public transportation, and I regret that it has taken so long for us to do this,” said Thwaites. “We are spending vast sums of money on new buses, for example, but they are not going to produce the ‘break-even’ that the JUTC and other systems need until we rationalise the whole public transportation system, and that’s what I am agitating for.”