Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Ronald Thwaites | A ‘cyaarpet’ of chaos

Published:Monday | October 19, 2020 | 7:22 AM
Coaster buses impede traffic along Constant Spring Road, St Andrew. Contributed
Coaster buses impede traffic along Constant Spring Road, St Andrew. Contributed

If coronavirus were to disappear overnight and we were to discover gold and oil in abundance, the lack of a common national sensibility and our inattention to building social capital would stall us from achieving the 2030 vision for Jamaica.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on Jamaican roads. More social values and attitudes are displayed and lifelong lessons learned on the roadways than in many classrooms. What goes on there is a template for what we think of ourselves, of others, and also of how those with power regard the rest of us.

Come with me on any thoroughfare on a weekday and see if you don’t agree. The Papine to Half-Way Tree route is a good place to start. Every third vehicle on the road now is a public transport vehicle. When you are unemployed or need a roast, you acquire a licence, get a car to drive and ‘tek on di road’. Sometimes the right connection, a police friend or a ‘boops’ from foreign can help arrange credit. After that, you have to hustle.

Mike Henry tells the story of even high-up managers whose cars are deployed to earn a few grand each day while the owners preside over their offices. Why not? This gig beats paying the parking fee which the hapless Mayor Williams wants to reintroduce downtown, apparently mindless that parking in metropolitan Jamaica is already a big hustling which, if he wants to keep his work, he better leave alone.

So, unregulated, chaotic public transportation is the latest manifestation of Jamaican entrepreneurial talent, promoted by this Government in a rash of short-sighted populism. Discipline, order and road safety have been sacrificed, probably forever. Montague has succeeded. Lucien Jones and the Road Safety Council, ironically headed by the prime minister, has been vanquished.

Watch the runnings. Right hand hanging out, phone cotch up in one ear corner, spliff on the lips, and relentless intent to get ahead of every line of traffic, bad-drive the competition and stop anywhere. Forget about policing the roads. The zeal of Radcliffe Lewis is long gone and anyway, every car impound and police station is overflowing with the wasting capital of seized cars.

HUSTLING HAVE TO GO ON

At the end of the day, the owner man has to be paid; the bank satisfied, so hustling has to go on. The worst shame is not to get 100 traffic tickets but to end up broke or to have your vehicle among the longer and longer lists of seized units for sale in the Sunday papers.

But check the costs. Given the above and more, absent any organised system of driver education, remediation and retraining, hopes of a sub-300 annual road death toll recede in every recent year. Someone needs to estimate the money cost and the value of national productivity loss of road accidents, mostly attributable to avoidable causes.

Then there is the haemorrhage of the Jamaica Urban Transport Company, bleeding billions of taxpayer dollars all because public policy has given away the bulk of their fare box by franchising or ignoring the competition. I wonder if we realise that the ordinary taxpayer is paying for every empty seat on the yellow bus which is no match for the three route taxes or Coasters competing at each bus stop?

This pattern has become the new normal. It is not questioned in Parliament or the media. Some ‘geniuses’ even equate it with ‘prassperity’. The travelling public is happy for the convenience of access even as they are mindless of the dangers of riding in vehicles, half of which have no insurance cover which can compensate their loss.

Recklessness and selfishness have become the rule of the road. The ‘new’ Road Traffic Act is already obsolete, and anyway probably will not come into force for another year. The increased fines will only improve the take of the tax depots which we call Traffic Courts.

Then there are the motorcycles, the smallest (and most lethal) vehicles on the road which emit the loudest noise. It is normative to modify the muffler of every bike so that the rider can elevate his ego by the nuisance he creates. And remember, as he dilly-dallies around you, he can be riding the biggest weapon with virtually no training as to how to operate it safely.

The new style is to careen down the road with one wheel in the air. This is our definition of skill. And nothing is done about this. But the children, especially the boys, learn lessons about life and what it takes to get ahead, to cut a dash; to try to escape from the dark panic of their underachievement and self-disrespect.

Add to this disarray the disappointment of the soiled ‘cyaarpet’. After the billions borrowed to be spent on our roads and the accompanying boasting, how can it be that we are just now talking about a study to determine drainage needs even as the road surfaces crack? And why is it that after decades, the NWC and the NWA can’t work it out so that a broken water pipe or the sewer main running in the middle (yes, it is in the middle) of the road doesn’t mash up the good good tarmac?

Who will be held accountable? Do we really expect that those who have created the problem of road chaos are going to have the humility, wisdom and skill to correct it?

The antidote to indiscipline and disorder is not the repression or helpless tolerance which we have long practised. It involves a process of socialisation, laced with incentives and sanctions, from the earliest stages of life, backed up by the positive examples and mentoring so lacking on our roads, to build a culture of respect and care for others – in short, to build worthwhile social capital.

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.