PUBLIC transport operators say they remain in a quandary over what lies ahead for them beginning February 1 when the new road traffic law takes effect.
In fact, one group — Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS) — has indicated that there could be an involuntary strike because many operators will be staying off the roads, not out of spite, but due to fear of being arrested on warrants that have already been issued as they have not been able to pay their tickets due to clogging of the courts.
"As it is right now, you can't pay any traffic ticket because the court administration people have to search for those tickets manually, and what you're getting when you go to court now is either your printout stamped and signed or you get a date to come back, so no payment can be made at the court office unless you have a one ticket and they can find that ticket ... they might collect for that, but all the sector people are getting dates to return up to mid-May," head of TODSS Egeton Newman told the Jamaica Observer on Monday.
He reiterated that it would be more constructive to shift the deadline to April 30 and implement a payment system at the tax offices, or make arrangements with bill payment services, to allow his members to settle their debts to the Government. "Then, after that, put down the gauntlet on us. We are willing to pay, we are ready to pay, and that's why we are all across the island at the various court offices, but we are not getting the chance to pay. I don't know why the Government is hard-balling this thing. We are very surprised and right now we are at our wits' end; we are in the sun standing for hours," he said.
Newman stressed that the operators are not asking for a delay of the roll-out of the new Road Traffic Act on February 1. He also argued that the insistence on a January 31 deadline to benefit from the reprieve and expungement of demerit points is simply a matter of economics.
"We know also that it's the financial period now, and you need the money. You're going to get your money; just give us some time to pay," he implored the authorities.
He said most operators are apprehensive about plying their usual routes on Wednesday, fearing they may find themselves in jail, and this could impact commuters.
"There is a major fear. We are not going to call a strike, we are not going to be engaged in or endorse a strike, the strike is already there because, come Wednesday morning, many of the operators will not be on the road," Newman said.
The Jamaica Association of Transport Owners and Operators has a similar lament. Vice-President Everton Style told the Observer that his members are being advised to ask the Police Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch about their warrants.
"We have told them to go to Elletson Road to check if they have any warrants; go and work. Having submitted your information to the court, go and work. There should be no fear if there is no warrant, then our legal representative will take it from there when the time comes to go to court," Style said.
He said some of the operators felt betrayed, not only by the Government but also their associations as promises in December that old tickets from January 31, 2018 and beyond would be voided, and a new redacted outstanding ticket schedule would have been produced, have not been honoured.
"It actually came out the middle of January; the operators were waiting on this printout. They then started to submit that printout to the court office, but while doing so they realise that the [court] dates that they're being given are in February, and into April, due to no fault of their own. The Government is also saying, 'If you don't deal with your outstanding ticket before January 31, 2023 you will not benefit from the [demerit] expungement.' We are at pains to try to let them [operators] know we had nothing to do with the Government's incompetence. How can you give somebody information to go and pay within a period of time that you cannot accommodate them," he questioned.
Another problem the operators are facing, Style said, is that in some instances the courts are refusing to stamp the ticket printouts.
"So they will stamp it today but don't stamp tomorrow, and the operators are worried that when push comes to shove they will be told that, 'You did not submit your documentation.' It's a good thing to show them, rather than check for warrants [as you can tell the authorities], 'My matters are in court,' so the police can feel comfortable that you're dealing with your thing and probably say, 'Go on,' he said.
In the meantime, the State-run Jamaica Urban Transit Company says it will continue to monitor the situation, with maintenance crews on standby, so that it will be in a position to roll out additional units to move commuters if necessary.
Corporate Communications Manager Cecil Thoms noted that the 50 new buses — including five electric units — that are to be added to the fleet in March should alleviate some of the constraints the company currently has with moving commuters.
"We are hoping that that will be able to mitigate some of the challenges that we are now facing. And I want to implore that it won't be a panacea for all the challenges that we are facing but it will certainly help, because these are brand new buses so we shouldn't have some of the challenges that we are currently facing like lack of buses and access," Thoms said.
Last Thursday, minister charged with oversight of the National Road Safety Council Floyd Green advised the House of Representatives that 2,371,494 traffic tickets were issued between February 1, 2018 and December 2022, and 1,666,371 (or 71 per cent) have been paid.
Parliament passed the Road Traffic (Reprieve and Nullification of Prescribed Notices) Act, 2023, at the end of last week, unconvinced by the Opposition's urgings to amend the expiration date of the Bill from January 31 to April 30.
Last Friday the Bill was passed in the Senate, after which it should have been sent to the governor general and gazetted. Up to Monday it was not clear whether those steps were taken.
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