PORUS, Manchester — Business owners and vendors on the now deserted Porus main road are holding on to hope and eagerly awaiting the new year when the toll-free period on the May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000 is expected to end.
Following the September 14 opening of the highway, motorists have bypassed the narrow winding Scott's Pass to Porus main road.
Bartender Denesha Campbell told the Jamaica Observer that business owners were hoping that the toll fee would have taken effect sooner, resulting in a favourable split of motorists using the Porus road versus the highway.
"Because nuff of dem not going to want to pay the toll, especially if the fee is high," she said on Thursday.
"You can cross the road now without even looking up or down the road. You can all walk in the road, because there is no traffic here. Yesterday [Wednesday] I saw a guy walking on the white line in the middle of the road," she said amusingly.
The bar, which would on a regular day be filled with people, especially truckers, has seen a nosedive in support.
Similarly, food sales at an adjacent restaurant have dropped.
"We have to cook less food now. We close earlier than before. Right now our support comes from people who live nearby. The community people are supporting us right now," said Lisa, a chef at Sharon's Restaurant and Bar.
Fruit vendor Lewis McLean said he at times reflects on what business was like before the opening of the highway.
"Business was good, but since the highway we lost a lot of customers, because everybody is taking the highway now and hopefully by the end of December things will resume to some form of normality," he said while being cautiously optimistic.
"I think when people start to pay the toll maybe less motorists will take the highway and we will get back some of our customers. We are really holding on to hope," added McLean.
Councillor Claudia Morant-Baker (Jamaica Labour Party, Porus Division) said Porus has suffered a massive economic downturn since the opening of the highway.
"One vendor said to me, 'Ms Morant, mi haffi stop selling because nothing is happening. We don't have any customers.' I noticed that most of the activities now divert due to the opening of the highway. I hope, and to be honest, I have been speaking with the bar owners, fruit vendors along Scott's Pass and the business owners in Porus. I have been asking them what the impact is on their business and they have told me that it has affected them tremendously," she said.
She too is hoping that business will improve in the long term and stave off the fear of increased criminality in the area.
"[People] are worried that there will be a high level of illegal activities in the area…There is no effective income being generated there, due to the fact that there are not as many customers coming through as before," said Morant-Baker.
"Business owners cannot employ as many people, because business is not booming as before. I do look forward to the first of January to see at least some more traffic coming back through Porus, because a lot of areas are affected," she added.
A petrol station worker, who asked not to be named, said Porus has become a ghost town.
"It nah gwaan good. You nuh see how the place dead. Nothing naa gwaan. Right now a bike community now, you see bikes more than anything else. You hardly see Mandeville to May Pen taxi pass here through Porus," he said.
He too believes Porus will see a return of traffic when the highway is tolled.
"It free now, so everybody is using it. I feel that once the toll rate is announced and takes effect, Porus is going to be busy again," he said.