Wed | Nov 13, 2019

Andre Wright | Will public transport survive Bobby’s bomb?

Published:Wednesday | October 16, 2019 | 1:49 AM
Robert Montague, minister of transport and mining. File

When Robert Montague rose in Gordon House on May 30, 2018, to announce the most explosive public-order disaster Jamaicans have ever heard, he was metaphorically strapped with C-4, clutching a grenade in one hand and a detonator in the other. Didn’t they realise he was about to bomb the public transportation system into oblivion when he drove up in his Toyota Isis?

Mr Montague, of used-car infamy, has rolled the wicket for the collapse of the sorry excuse we have for public transportation in this country. Having swallowed whole Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the quintessential tome on the invisible hand of the market, good ol’ Bobby has had a bout of severe indigestion and constipation.

He believes that the Transport Authority (TA) should not dictate the number of buses and taxis on the nation’s streets but that the market should be the sole determinant.

“We will allow all who wish to be licensed to be licensed,” Montague had said.

Even if the transport minister had a beef with a TA technocrat crunching numbers and mystically arriving at a ceiling for licences for public ­passenger vehicles (PPVs), it is a lurch off the cliff of reason to liberalise the sector into a free-for-all.

It would have been more cerebral for Mr Montague to undertake a data-based, research-focused evaluation detailing overall (and geo-specific) commuter density and travel route analysis.

There is no consensus from the Island Traffic Authority and the Insurance Association of Jamaica on the number of vehicles on the roads. We are also blind to the number of insured vehicles. Months ago, the Jamaica Urban Transit Company revealed that it does not know market demand for its service in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region. The transport ministry does not know how many illegal, or robot, taxis operate in the country.

Amid this mass ignorance, how can Robert Montague conceive of a plan to close his eyes, sink the accelerator, and ram into a cluster of cars and ­commuters with his Toyota Isis? It’s the same brainless logic that led him on a frolic of his own in getting the Government entangled with O’Brien’s International, bypassing a host of ­credible and creditable alternatives, in procuring 200 pre-owned motor vehicles to supplement the fleet of the police force. All now we nuh get wah we pay fa!

Up to mid-year, the police reported issuing quarter-million traffic tickets to errant motorists. But the cardinal offenders, some with more than a thousand tickets unpaid, have been incentivised by paying peanuts in traffic fines – at a discounted rate of about $50 per ticket.

Montague’s grand plan effected four months ago seeks to facilitate all categories of road licences islandwide, except for hackney carriages, which is projected to open up 1,251 routes across the island, including nearly 1,000 route taxi slots. His cavalier action is opportunistic and populist, apparently seeking to ingratiate the State and, perhaps, pick up a few votes from ‘sufferer dem’ and ‘ghetto yutes’.

But everyone who is a victim of the thousands of busmen and cabbies wielding their vehicles like weapons of mass destruction know what it’s like to feel deserving of a Nobel Prize after surviving a minefield on urban streets and rural routes. The PPV operators must deliver between $6,000 and $30,000 per day to the owners of capital – depending on whether it’s a cab, 15-seater minibus, or 30-seater Coaster – before earning anything for themselves, so they embark on daredevil stunts to scavenge for the almighty dollar.

This is the perfect storm that Robert Montague has dreamt up, determined to impose a nightmare on the country. Mr Montague’s salve for souls is that the market will correct itself. When taximen don’t earn enough, they’ll just park their cars and try something else, Montague opines. How naïve! The law of the jungle is this: If you can’t earn enough, drive faster, break more stop lights, ‘bad-drive’ more motorists.

Just remember that when you see the next careening Probox about to write you off, it may be the legacy of Bobby’s big bomb.

André Wright is the outgoing opinion editor of The Gleaner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.