President of the St James Taxi Association Dion Chance has said that the concerns regarding overcharging of fares across the parish stem from passengers being confused about the cost associated with what is popularly termed “turn-off” â€” the practice of meeting their requests to be taken to a destination outside of the prescribed route.
Chance explained that the road licence obtained by public passenger vehicle (PPV) operators indicates the specific route that the taxis should traverse. With that in mind, Chance told the Jamaica Observer that any deviation from the route will attract an additional cost.
Using the popular Mount Salem route as an example, Chance said that the road licence states that the vehicle should travel along Humber Avenue onto the Mount Salem main road, ending at Mount Salem Open Bible Church. A passenger wanting to be dropped directly at their gate on Austin Avenue or Crichton Drive will have to pay an additional $50, Chance told the Sunday Observer.
“Anything diverting off the Mount Salem main road is a turn-off and that is additional fare, so I think that is where a majority of the issues are coming from,” he noted.
While pointing out that the action is not new, Chance said that he has received multiple complaints from passengers since the fares were raised by 19 per cent on October 15. The taxi association president is hoping to work out the kinks with passengers before the further 16 per cent increase takes effect in April 2024.
“I am planning to get to the leadership of the Transport Authority to see if we can sit down and come up with a strategy, probably at the origin of the route, to have some signs erected to say that this is the route that the vehicle will traverse. At least then, the people will know that if they deviate or turn off, then it is an extra $50,” Chance said.
The Sunday Observer was contacted by an elderly St James man who bemoaned what he described as “blatant overcharging” by taxi operators plying the Ironshore route. The senior citizen, who requested that his identity be withheld, complained that passengers in the parish require clarity as it relates to the fares.
“Before the fare increase they were charging $180 from downtown Montego Bay to Ironshore. Now that the increase has come about, they are charging $220 from downtown. When you compare that to the stipulated amount from the Transport Authority you will realise that they recommend $170, so charging $220 is out of line,” he said.
“It shows that they were overcharging passengers from before the increase. It seems to me that they are charging a 19 per cent increase on the former rate that they were charging, which is exorbitant and unacceptable. They need to get the formula down and scrub the slate clean,” the senior citizen argued.
At the same time, the man said that he has made several attempts to obtain clarity from the Transport Authority and the Ministry of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport. However, he has so far been unsuccessful.
He told the Sunday Observer that intervention is needed by portfolio Minister Daryl Vaz.
“An investigation needs to be done and clarity needs to be brought. The Government needs to do something because as far as I am concerned, the Government has thrown us under the bus. The information given has been so vague and we can’t work with that,” said the elderly man.
Referencing the Road Traffic Act, the man said that he is aware that the law states that children, students in uniform, physically disabled and senior citizens should pay half of the approved bus or taxi fares. He, however, claimed that taxi association President Chance has said that it never won agreement from PPV operators.
“When I asked about the senior citizen discount, the gentleman at the taxi association said that was never agreed to, but the Government has stipulated it. So how many authorities do we have? Is this a monster with more than one head? If the Government said it is half fare for senior citizens and schoolchildren in uniforms, how can he now say that was never agreed to? The association is saying one thing and the Government is saying another thing? So it means we have more than one authority,” the elderly man bemoaned.
In addition to Chance’s recommendations, the elderly man told the Sunday Observer that the fares for each route should be posted at the taxi stands in the city of Montego Bay.
“Anywhere else in the world you go, once you stand at the bus stop you see the fares there. So it is like everybody is trying to hide from responsibility and not offend anybody. Also, the taxi drivers need to have the fares displayed inside their vehicles,” said the man.
While Chance maintained that the requests for turn-offs were causing issues between taxi operators and passengers, he acknowledged the concerns raised by the elderly man.
“I am not going to say that there are no instances where people do overcharge, but I think the majority of the cases are stemming from the issue of turn-offs. Hopefully, as we go along and things settle down a bit we can sort out these nuances,” Chance said.
“I cannot recall what is on the road licence for the Ironshore route, but I know that there is a thoroughfare on the licence to a terminal point. So anywhere you go past there will be deemed as a turn-off. So if you want to go to your gate on a road that is off Patterson Avenue, then it is a turn-off. We are working to address that in terms of getting the information out there to the public to empower them,” Chance stated.