Tue | Mar 31, 2020

Garth A. Rattray | ‘One stop, drivah’

Published:Monday | January 27, 2020 | 12:16 AM
Unruly taxi operators.

I still vividly recall those high school days, at St George’s College, when I walked to the heart of Parade in downtown Kingston to catch a ‘Jolly Joseph’ (Jamaica Omnibus Service) bus home. Sometimes I was lucky enough to see a number 1 bus parked at its spot in the centre of Parade.

My worst experience was when I ran to catch one of them, but the ­conductress rang the bell, and the doors (literally) hissed and closed in my face. The anxiety, frustration, and embarrassment were overwhelming, and I vowed that I would never run to catch any bus ever again.

However, commuters today have no such problems. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other. Although we have designated ‘bus stops’, these are landmarks more than anything else. When the ‘robot’ taxis emerged, they would pick up and let off anyone, anywhere, in order to gain the (unfair) advantage over the official, legal buses. Then when ‘route’ taxis came into being, they adopted the ‘robot’ taxi culture of outmanoeuvring the legal transport providers by stopping anywhere to satisfy their passengers’ desires.

To my utter amazement, even some Jamaica Urban Transit Company Limited (JUTC) buses have adopted the nasty habit of stopping anywhere to pick up or drop off passengers. Stopping a JUTC bus, minibus, or taxi only requires the elevation of the arm nearer to the street. You don’t have to be facing or looking in the direction of the JUTC bus, minibus or taxi. Just raise an arm and they will stop for you (notice, I didn’t say ‘pull over’ for you). And, if you are in a taxi or bus, all you have to say is, “One stop, drivah”, or just “One stop”, and most of them will stop anywhere for you to get off.

Stops for passengers occur not only anywhere, but also anyhow, and at any time. I’ve witnessed stops from the sublime to the ridiculous. Most JUTC buses tend to pull over properly when stopping at designated bus stops, but some simply draw brakes and stop in traffic. However, sometimes, JUTC buses behave just like unruly route taxis, stop in traffic outside of designated bus stops, and pick up or drop off passengers.

Minibuses and route taxis negotiate the streets like competition ­drivers ­performing dexterity manoeuvres at high speed. And they’ll overtake ­drivers then suddenly cut left and stop, in ­traffic, for passengers. Some will turn at an intersection and stop in the corner, blocking and endangering other road users. What confounds me is that stopping just a few metres farther along the road would be much better and safer.

Route taxis routinely enter the compulsory right-turn lane at traffic lights, fully intending to go to the top of the line, cut off other drivers and race straight ahead. That’s bad enough, but sometimes they enter the compulsory right-turn lane and then swerve left, stop in traffic, and pick up or drop off passengers.

Route taxis and minibuses habitually stop and obstruct minor roads. Amazingly, I’ve even witnessed them stop in the middle of traffic-light intersections and obstruct traffic just for passengers. JUTC buses do the same in Half-Way Tree. When approaching Half-Way Tree from the north, south, or west, unless there is a strong police contingent present, you will observe route taxis and minibuses commandeering lanes on both sides of the roads and obstruct traffic to wait for, stop, and pick up passengers. They endanger us all just to ‘eat a food’.

Too many regular motorists are patterning the driving characteristics of our public transport operators. It’s sad and scary to think that the mayhem on our roads, multiple crashes, increased motor vehicle insurance rates, injuries and deaths have roots in three simple words, ‘One stop, drivah’.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feed­back to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.