Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Editorial | Making an ass of the law

Published:Wednesday | December 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM

The operators of Jamaica's hackney carriage franchises are, it appears, a species unto themselves. They adhere to the most perverse of logic.

By their own account, they often knowingly facilitate the breaking of the law and placing their customers at risk, for which, in turn, they eschew responsibility and blame the regulatory authorities. That, essentially, is the gravamen of their argument in a story published by this newspaper yesterday.

The result of this self-incriminatory revelation, it seems to us, must be greater oversight, in law, of these companies.

A general appreciation of how the companies in question operate and the service they provide is, in the circumstance, useful. Having set up shop, they offer their brands, as well as ancillaries, to independent contractors for a fee. Those services usually include the two-way radios installed in taxis and affiliation with the dispatchers who commuters call when in need of cabs.

Because these companies do not normally own the fleets, and the way that the laws are structured, it is the responsibility of individual owners of the vehicles to ensure that they are insured and appropriately licensed to transport paying passengers - that, in Jamaican parlance, they have 'red plates'.

 

CONTRACT WITH CUSTOMERS

 

The companies, nonetheless, would be expected to establish operational and customer service standards, which they say they do. For while the operators of the taxis in which passengers travel may be independent contractors working on their own account, when a commuter telephones for a cab, or hails one on the road, the implicit agreement, or contract, is between himself and the company he believes he has engaged. Indeed, neither the cab company nor the driver tells the commuter anything different. There is no fine print, disclaimer or warning at the start of journey.

So, here is the problem. In that story to which we refer, the CEOs of a number of these taxi companies admitted that a number of the cabs that operate within their franchises are not licensed as public passenger vehicles. And it is not that these vehicles, unbeknown to the companies, fell through the cracks. The franchisers knowingly accommodate them.

 

TRANSPORT AUTHORITY TO BLAME

 

Indeed, Wayne Buchanan of the El Shaddai taxi service seems to believe that having "a substantive" number of legal taxis under his umbrella, or the fact that the Transport Authority (TA) has not issued more route licences, exculpates his firm. "They (TA) are the ones who are holding out on us," he said.

Phillip Fearon of On Time Taxi finds vindication in his claim that illegal taxis are dispatched only when no legal ones are available, especially if his company has tried its best to inform commuters about the illegality. For Owen Clarke of Express Taxi, his company was only responding to consumer demand.

In this circumstance, it is not that the law is an ass, in the sense that it operates to its precise letter, but that people are making an ass of it - in the pejorative sense. The deeper issue here is that commuters are being placed at risk, absent of insurance and the likelihood of compensation in the event they are in a crash involving these illegal taxis, operating under the banners of presumably reputable companies.

Clearly, taxi companies will have to be regulated in the proposed new Road Traffic Act and the planned separate legislation for the Traffic Authority.