Child seat brouhaha demonstrates need for national transport service

The Government's decision to amend the Road Traffic Act in light of citizen backlash over the requirement for child restraint systems in public passenger vehicles demonstrates the need, as we have been advocating, for a national transport service.

We share the prime minister's view that further discussion around safety in public transportation is necessary. However, we are still puzzled by the fact that legislators in both Houses of Parliament, over so many years, failed to highlight the impracticality of the provision for child seats in taxis and other public passenger vehicles.

That said, we hold firm to the view that successive governments have yielded public transport to a bunch of irresponsible people who have no regard for the law and really show no respect to commuters. In fact, they do not value the lives of the very people on whom they depend to make a living.

We reiterate that this wild west operation is an indication of the State's lack of capacity to organise, maintain, and grow a structured public transportation system in keeping with population, commercial and residential expansion across the country.

A national public transport service, we acknowledge, will come at a cost to the country, but the benefits are many, among them the convenience of moving the workforce. It also helps to promote productivity; generate business; increase commerce, including small businesses; facilitates both business and leisure travel; and reduces traffic congestion, which leads to air pollution.

We have also seen research indicating that walking from home to nearby transit stops and back helps to increase physical activity, thus having a positive impact on people's health and well-being.

There are many other benefits, but those we have outlined here should give legislators cause for serious consideration. The key, though, is that any national public transport system must be properly developed, maintained, and held to exacting performance standards — particularly schedules, which are vital to productivity.

We envisage a single entity being responsible for managing this system, as that, we hold, will allow for a seamless operation that would integrate service schedules, smart ticketing that provides passengers with the convenience of making one payment on commutes that include multiple transit modes, and the availability of a single app from which commuters can access information and purchase the service.

This, we acknowledge, will require a lot of technical work but, as we have stated before, the expertise to develop a reliable system exists in other jurisdictions with which Jamaica enjoys excellent relations. We shouldn't be bashful about seeking assistance.

It will also require patience, because what is sorely needed here cannot be achieved overnight. The Government has an opportunity now to ensure that it avoids making the same mistakes that have all but ruined the Jamaica Urban Transit Company.

Jamaicans deserve much better than the current ramshackle operation that passes for a service.

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