On Sunday, November 13 news broke that privately operated route taxis and bus operators will strike on November 14 because they feel mistreated by the Government and the lack of policies, financial assistance, and other issues affecting the sector. President of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services Egerton Newman issued a statement saying that it cannot be business as usual.
While I agree that some things need to be addressed before any kind of financial assistance or benefit is afforded to taxi and bus operators, they need to adjust how they operate on the roads. It is clear that they have no respect for law and order and other road users. They drive recklessly, obstruct traffic, and hiking fares during peak hours. Many people would prefer not to have to take these taxis and buses, but it is their only option. They, therefore, face the indiscipline and aggression of these operators on a daily basis.
When will the behaviour and general attitude of these operators be addressed? What kind of policy is the Government putting in place to curtail the indiscipline we face on the roads as pedestrians and commuters? It is obvious that the road is only for taxis and buses, and if you try to correct or highlight their indiscipline, you run the risk of being assaulted by their henchmen or by the drivers themselves.
Everyday law-abiding commuters face disrespect and the risk of being run off the road by drivers who refuse to look after causing an accident due to careless driving. These drivers are always in a hurry, and sometimes they are in a hurry to go nowhere. When you are nearly run off the road, only to see them pull over a couple metres up the road, you think to yourself, "Why the rush?" But it is a culture that they have developed as drivers. A culture that is very dangerous and puts every commuter's/pedestrian's life at risk.
Now there is a strike, and a number of taxi and bus operators have refused to participate in the strike for whatever reason. Many highlighted that they have families to feed and their bosses will still expect to collect for the day, whether they work or not, and we have to respect them for that. We live in a democratic society, and people should have the right to choose what activities they participate in.
A number of the taxi operators who have refused to strike have been assaulted by those on strike. Numerous videos are circulating of taxi men with long sticks and other weapons ordering passengers to exit vehicles and instructing them to walk to where they want to go. There are other videos showing men pulling taxi drivers from their vehicles and taking their keys.
This kind of behaviour cannot be encouraged, and the people who represent taxis and buses must condemn this kind of behaviour. Right is right and wrong is wrong. I think, as a society, we have forgotten what the right thing looks like.
It is within their rights if they feel things are not going their way to demonstrate or strike peacefully, but this cannot be done at the expense of assaulting and hurting others.
How can a taxi or bus driver rack up over 100 tickets and expect the Government to pay them off? Personally, I do not believe in amnesty, and even if there is one, it should not benefit a driver who has over 100 tickets by writing them off or allowing him or her to pay a small fee or a portion of the total cost.
If we had stricter policies, many of these taxi and bus operators would readily pay their ticket fines as soon as they got them or suffer the consequence of losing their licence. However, because the system is not coordinated and there is room for corruption, these taxi and bus drivers operate as they please because there are no real sanctions for the numerous violations they commit. It should not be that anyone with a driver's licence can be employed to drive a bus or taxi. The Government should have a say in this.
Here are some solutions to the taxi and bus problems we're having:
1)Individuals who wish to drive a taxi or bus for someone else must apply to the Ministry of Transport and be interviewed by a committee. If approved, they should be issued an ID card that must be worn at all times while driving.
2) No taxi or bus can be driven by an individual who wishes to carry passengers without the permission of the ministry. A person who is found in breach should be fined heavily, his or her licence suspended, and the owner of the vehicle's bus or taxi licence suspended.
3)A taxi or bus driver who is issued 20 or more tickets for the calendar year may have his or her licence suspended after meeting with the committee.
4)Drivers with outstanding tickets should not be allowed to insure their private vehicles until all fees are paid.
We are in this predicament because anyone is allowed to drive or be employed as a taxi or bus driver. This should not be the case because of the type of people we have in our society. People who are allowed should have respect for the rule of law and the people who they intend to offer that service.
Based on what is happening and the myriad social issues affecting the country, drivers must be screened and deemed medically and mentally fit to operate taxis or buses.
Nickoyon Brown is an I Believe ambassador, a 2020 recipient of the Governor General's Achievement Award, and founder of School Boys Mentorship Programme. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.