Mark Wignall | Madmen taxi drivers
It was a typical morning some time in 2011 and I was into my main morning chore, taking my stepdaughter to school. I had driven down from Red Hills and was in a long but steadily moving line of traffic heading east in the vicinity of the PriceSmart supermarket.
As long as the traffic kept on moving I would reach Immaculate on time and all would be well. The regular in-car conversation would soon be shattered as less than 50 metres behind me, a taxi heading east, as I was, decided that patience was his enemy. He shot out of the line and as he neared me, he was forced to avert a head-on collision with a vehicle heading west.
As he did so he barely missed sideswiping me but in the process, he clipped my wing mirror and sped off into the distance. A loud Jamaican expletive exploded from my mouth, and sensing an apology coming, my stepdaughter simply said, "I understand Mark. I would want to wring his neck too."
Just two months ago, I am again on Red Hills Road but it is early evening and I am heading westwards. The traffic in my direction is sparse but there is a long, moderately moving line headed east. This time it is two taxis. They suddenly pull out, one behind the other heading straight for a head-on collision with me.
Instinctively, I am forced to race forward, seeking a space free of pedestrians on the sidewalk. I rush to mount the banking with my left wheels as they crazily speed by. I am abiding by the law and I am being punished. They see utility in breaking the law and they are getting by. I feel powerless, impotent; they are laughing.
Over the long holiday weekend, road fatalities claimed 10 lives. We do not know how many of those were due to speeding or to failed evasive action because of the illegal use of the road by others.
It has been rumoured that some policemen have small fleets of taxis on the road and it is the drivers of those vehicles who feel empowered to break the law with impunity. A few days ago, I mentioned it to Security Minister Bobby Montague.
"I have heard the same rumours, but I have not been presented with any hard evidence. To the extent that it is happening, a policeman would have to seek permission from his superior officer and the taxis involved would have to be appropriately licensed for those purposes," he said.
Notwithstanding the prior warning given by many key individuals in the Jamaican society, 10 lives were needlessly lost. But let's face it, we are an aggressive people. Enter a conversation at a corner shop or a village bar. Keep one's voice acceptably audible and one will be ignored. Increase the volume and deliver it aggressively and they will pay you attention.
Chancery Street near to Red Hills Road is always in the throes of that aggression. Yellow JUTC buses in chacka-chacka competition with robot taxis. The loader men are collecting their $50 per vehicle and the extortionists are involved in their daily looting.
Whenever the police show up, the extortionists disappear. In their place is a young lady standing there innocuously, but in more subtle 'collection of taxes'. Certainly, if I know of her, the police must also know of her, but maybe there are connections that I do not know of.
It seems not to be enough personnel among the traffic police to control the open lawlessness on our main thoroughfares or, maybe again, there are connections I do not know of. What we do know is that aggression is embedded in Jamaican society at all levels and it is a rarity that arguments and minor traffic scrapes are solved by the drivers being calm and rational.
One would assume that in the rural areas where the presence of the police is even less, the behaviour of robot taxis is likely to be worse. Too many Jamaicans prefer to respond to sanctions and the teeth of the law instead of responding to good sense.
For this reason, it is only the presence of more policemen and the issuing of tickets that will lead to a significant reduction in that horrible behaviour on our roads.