Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Buses and taxis driving us mad

Published:Tuesday | August 9, 2016 | 12:00 AM

There are some really good taxi drivers out there. For the greater part of my school life, my family and I were transported from Point A to B by the most decent, dependable taxi drivers from Apollo Taxi Service. Ricky, 65, and Chicken, 55, in particular were the best. Not only did they take us around safely every day, but they knew my mother, baby brother and I lived alone, and they looked out for us above and beyond what was expected from a driver.

There was one night that they had heard about a shooting in our area and got concerned about our safety. At 3 a.m., those men come to our house and insisted that we come out so that they could see we were all right and that no one was in the house trying to harm us. I will never forget that act of kindness. My mother and I are forever indebted to those drivers, and to this day, even now that both my mother and I drive, Ricky and Chicken are only a phone call away.

I say all that to establish that not every taxi and bus driver is bad. Those like Ricky and Chicken are many, but unfortunately, over time, men in the profession have inherited an awful reputation of being insensitive road hogs. They seem to be only concerned about money, hustling to pick up the next load as quickly as possible and willing to run over anyone who slows them down.

Professional taxi associations have tried to save face, impressing upon their members the dangers of bringing such disrepute to their profession, but the message doesn't reach most. The bad apples ensure that everyone on the road feels their presence with annoyance and fear. The tragedy is that bad public transportation drivers not only put their own lives at risk, but the lives of the passengers they carry and cars and pedestrians with which they collide. And the results are all too often fatal.

 

GOING TOO FAST

 

A friend sent me a photograph week before last of the speedometer of a robot taxi in which he was travelling from Ocho Rios to Kingston. The picture was taken over the driver's shoulder without his knowledge: 180km/h. That's the speed at which he was travelling on the North-South Highway, with seven passengers. At that speed, no matter how experienced a driver you are, you can't react to any unforeseen eventuality on the road.

Some drivers just don't care. And because they know the law will probably never catch up with them, they are a law unto themselves. In Half-Way Tree, I watched a policeman write a ticket. And as the motorist drove off, he simply stuck his hand through the window and let the said ticket fly off into the breeze. I was in such shock I took a picture of it, fearing when I recounted the story that people would surely say I was lying.

You expect that persons should be the best at their profession. Doctors should be the best at healing, singers should have the best vocal talent, chefs be the best cooks. So why does it appear that the worst drivers so often make driving their profession?

Perhaps entry into the vocation is too easy. There needs to be stricter screening, more frequent spot checks, and undercover operations where Transport Authority officers commute on buses and taxis anonymously and rate the drivers.

Perhaps drivers should be required to test annually for the renewal of licences to have them renewed. You get the feeling that the current relicensing regime is more about collecting the fees and less about truly assessing the capability of these persons to which hundreds of lives are entrusted daily.

Passengers should take their fair share of blame as well. No one person in that taxi from Ocho Rios complained. In primary school, children used to call the reckless driving of bad drivers 'sweet ride'. The irresponsible overtaking was glorified, and the riskier the driver's manoeuvre through traffic, the louder the passengers would cheer.

Clearly, the systems we have in place aren't working. People are cursing bus and taxi drivers every day, and it cannot be allowed to continue like this. It's a situation that needs urgent attention or one of two things will happen - bad drivers will drive us all off the roads or drive us mad.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.