ONE hundred and seventy-two taxi operators have been killed by gunmen over the last five years, according to Egeton Newman, president of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS).
"It is a staggering number really, 172 taxi operators have been slain in one way or another. We are under the gun, we are under siege," Newman told the Jamaica Observer's weekly Auto magazine.
"Several have been abducted, we haven't heard from them, they have just gone missing, especially in the year 2021. But 172 have been slain by the gun and instruments of death," he continued.
According to the statistics compiled by TODSS, there were 23 murders of taxi operators in 2018, then 17 in 2019. The number of murders in the sector doubled with 34 murders in 2020, and has steadily increased since then, with 41 murders in 2021, and a high of 57 in 2022.
The high mortality rate has continued unchecked with two murders and one suicide in the transport sector in the first five days of 2023. On Wednesday, 32-year-old taxi man Javon Ferguson was discovered slumped over the steering wheel of his taxi along a roadway in Seaview Gardens in St Andrew. He had been shot in the head.
The latest case involves a 34-year-old taxi driver Ansel Thomas who was shot dead by a gunman at the Naggo Head Transport Centre in Portmore, St Catherine, on Thursday morning.
Newman noted that even with the high mortality rates, an astounding number of taxi operators don't have life insurance policies, which creates an added burden on their families in the event of their deaths.
"It is unfortunate that transport operators and especially the workers in the sector, don't have life insurance coverage. Most, 85 per cent by rough estimation, don't have insurance. We have sought out life insurance policies for them but they are unable to pay the premium because of the low wages, the cost of paying tickets," Newman said.
He pointed to a level of mistrust between insurance companies and the taxi operators which has led to the low numbers of those actually accessing the benefits of a life insurance policy.
"Several just refuse to pay because they feel that the insurance company is ripping them off. We have had several meetings with major insurance companies to provide packages for them and very few are taking up the offer for life insurance. Most of them, when they die, we have to get involved to find resources to provide for their funeral. Their children are left behind, no support because the transport business is one where you are contracted to work," Newman said.
He promised that this year must be an "action year" for the transport sector
"We have to transform ourselves. The sector needs a total overhaul, but when you have 37,000 vehicles with 34,000 owners, everybody thinks about their own business and way of life, and we're striving for unity within the transport sector this year," Newman said.