The current strike by some taxi and bus operators that has caused many Jamaicans in the Corporate Area major inconvenience further highlights an argument we have made in this space for several years — the need for a properly run national public transportation service.
We have never denied the fact that large operating deficits are a feature of State-run public transportation systems. However, most countries that offer the service regard it as a public good, as the benefits that redound to the State are many.
Again, we point to a suggestion made two years ago by Mr Alberto Luis Moreno, when he was president of the Inter-American Development Bank, that governments stop treating transportation subsidies as a drain on public funds, and instead view them as strategic investments that generate huge social, economic, and environmental returns.
We acknowledge that, at present, the Jamaican Government is not in a position to allocate more of its budget to subsidising public transportation. However, the Administration should not yield to the view that we are unable to formulate a strategy to solve this problem.
For what now exists is untenable, a system run by a barbarian horde who break the law with impunity and now have the temerity to demand that the Government yield to their demand for an amnesty on traffic tickets that they decided not to pay over many months.
Jamaicans should not forget that these bus and transport operators, some of whom should have been in prison, voted on Sunday to withdraw their services because the Government had not granted this amnesty requested by a group led by the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS).
Mr Egeton Newman, the TODSS president, riled up his colleagues and convinced most of them to side with him with this asinine statement: "We need to send a message to the Government for an amnesty. They give gunmen amnesty. Foolishness, give us the amnesty, we are willing to pay. All we want is a payment plan."
That payment plan, Mr Newman is demanding, is for taxi and bus operators who have 30, 40, 60, and up to 200 traffic tickets that they have not paid, yet they continue to transport the unsuspecting public each day.
Mr Newman either forgot or deliberately ignored the fact that, in July, Minister of Justice Mr Delroy Chuck had warned people with outstanding tickets that under the new transport legislation they would not be able to renew their driver's licences or motor vehicle registration if they fail to pay the fines.
Mr Chuck had also noted that there are some undisciplined and lawless motorists who feel that these tickets can be ignored. In fact, they are "collecting traffic tickets like confetti", he said.
To add insult to the injury they inflicted on commuters lawless louts among them were seen attacking law-abiding taxi and bus operators, pulling some of them from their vehicles, threatening them with physical violence, and damaging their vehicles.
We commend the Government for refusing to bow to disorder and uncouth behaviour. At the same time, we hold that the State needs to start the process of fixing public transport. It will require bravery, and our legislators, being politicians, will most naturally consider the political cost. But the long-term good to the country outweighs that consideration.