HEAD of Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS) Egeton Newman is adamant that his group will not be a part of any demonstration or withdrawal of service that has been planned for today.
The planned protest is in anticipation by some public passenger vehicle (PPV) operators that the full force of the law will be brought down on them for outstanding traffic tickets.
But head of the Island Traffic Authority Kenute Hare, who made statements earlier this month to the effect that the police would be issuing warrants for delinquents as of December 1, has since said in a Jamaica Observer interview that: "In response to the feedback from members of the public, with respect to my earlier request that persons with outstanding tickets have them resolved by December 1, I think that we will definitely agree that persons will get additional time to settle their outstanding traffic tickets". However, he urged motorists to work "feverishly" to pay these tickets.
Newman told the Observer on Wednesday that operators are anxious about the possibility of being arrested or having their licences suspended. He stressed that the operators are not seeking to be absolved of their debts, but that they are pleading with the Government to give them a payment plan, without penalties. "Thousands of them want to pay. They're not asking a favour not to pay; all they're saying, [is] give us some time. Many of these tickets are given unwarranted, some of course are given the right way. We have applied for a payment plan, and we are awaiting the payment plan," Newman stressed.
TODSS, whose official membership comprises 11,000 bus and taxi operators, represents most members of the public transport sector.
He said the operators are now at a crossroads, with their fate as operators hanging in the balance while they anxiously await word from Government, but he said they have been urged to take action in the interim.
"We don't know what to do. We are hearing innuendos left, right and centre but we believe that while we wait on Government we have to make arrangements on our own to do what we can to address the situation. Go to the traffic department, or go online, and you'll get the amount of tickets you have outstanding, and seek to address them in whatever form," he urged his members.
Newman, meanwhile, noted that TODSS has made arrangements to provide legal assistance to those who need it. "Make use of it. We also urge you not to consider any form of withdrawal of service in the public transport sector. If you think you have warrants out there and you think the police are coming after you, you are private business people. If you don't want to go to work, nobody can stop you. But we are working with you to ensure that you pay your tickets," he stated.
At the same time, he expressed confidence that the Government will find a resolution to the impasse about any mass suspension of licences, as persons try to make good on their tickets payments, could result in severe hardships for commuters, especially during this festive season.
"The best bet for Government is to give us a payment plan. Right now hundreds of taxi and bus operators have parked their vehicles. Scores of operators will park their vehicles because the drivers aren't going out to work," he said.
Newman noted that some operators have had their licences suspended even as they sought to make amends. "No taximan wants to go to jail, and no taximan wants to lose his licence. That is why we are asking the Government to give us a payment plan, which will not allow your licence to be taken away, which will not allow a warrant to catch you on the road while you're about to go and make your payment," he said.
He added that if the Government cannot grant this leniency, "then something is wrong with the system". He urged members to focus on changing the perception of operators in the sector, and encouraged them to attend upcoming training and development programmes, even while their leadership rigorously pursues solutions to the challenges that exist with Government on the request for a payment plan to clear outstanding tickets.
Newman noted that the transport sector accounts for about 60 per cent of outstanding tickets, but that it was hard to put that in monetary terms, as ticket charges increase by multiples once the matter goes to court.
"If they give you a payment plan you would be paying the money over a period of time, and you would pay the price that you pay at the tax office, so the fact is that the Government really wants you to go to court and pay," he said.
Transport Minister Audley Shaw told Parliament recently that, of the 500,000 tickets issued annually over the past five years, an average of 282,000 of these end up in court and less than 70,000 are actually paid. The police issued almost $1 billion in traffic tickets to motorists last year.