Overrun by madness - Stakeholders in public transport sector claim illegal taxis eating into potential revenue
Even while the Planning Institute of Jamaica has declared that 75 per cent of Jamaican households rely on the public transportation system, there are growing concerns about the viability of the public transport sector, which is now thought to be overrun by disorderly illegal taxi operators.
Data obtained by The Gleaner show that for the period between January 1 and September 5 this year, the police seized 5,285 illegal taxies across the country. It is a 21.6 per cent increase in comparison to the same period when 4,146 were seized.
In the Corporate Area alone, the police seized 2,115 illegal taxis for the same period. This is a whopping 56.6 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.
Deon Chance, president of the National Council of Taxi Associations (NCTA), told The Gleaner that the issue of illegal taxis has been a longstanding one. His association wants immediate intervention in the matter because the illegal taxis are threatening the revenue of legitimate operators.
"They are cutting into between 40 and 50 per cent of the potential revenue of legal operators," Chance claimed.
Islandwide, he estimates that of the pool of taxis operating, at least 60 per cent of them are doing so illegally.
"The percentage of illegal taxis is very high, hence the reason why they are cutting significantly into the revenue of the legal ones," he said.
When The Gleaner spoke to Mark, an illegal taxi operator in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, last week, he said the reason that he has not been regularised is because he is hardly ever a target for the police and transport authorities.
He noted that the "red plates are easier to catch, so they do not really come after us. We know how to outsmart the police. We hardly use the park (facilities), too, because the passengers don't like to wait, so they (the police) do not catch us in there."
LEGAL OPERATORS TARGETED
It is a sour point for Chance, who has also made the observation that legitimate operators are targeted instead of the illegal ones. He wants that practice to come to an end.
"Many times, the (police) operations that are out there tend to focus on the legal persons. You find that the illegal taxi operators just drive by with heavily tinted windows and continue their many trips," Chance lamented.
The NTCA president divulged to The Gleaner that operations done by the police are worthwhile, preventing illegal operators from doing "as they feel like" and resulting in better revenues for the legal operators.
"Whenever there is an operation in which policemen from outside of the parish or jurisdiction are involved, the legal taxis in the park sing a song of glory to say they need more days like these. Those are the times when they really make some money. Those are the times when the persons doing the operation know no one, so nobody escapes the net," Chance stated.
Chance bemoaned the lawless fashion in which the illegal taxis operate on the road. "They pick up here and they drop off here, and it just creates a lot of confusion on the road."
This practice was observed in the vicinity of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company bus terminal and the Burger King restaurant on North Odeon Avenue in St Andrew, where the premises of a petrol station was being used as a pick-up and drop-off area.
When The Gleaner brought it to the attention of the police, Courtney Coubrie, acting senior superintendent of police in charge of the Traffic and Highway Division, in an emailed response, said: "I am aware in the past this petrol station was overrun by taxis and buses. However, strong enforcement operations have been carried out by the traffic police. This has resulted in the discontinuation of this practice."
He noted that the police in the Corporate Area have been having challenges with taxi operators parking in areas that were never designed to accommodate them. He said that the illegal taxi-parking poses a challenge for the wider public.
"... Ellesmere Avenue off Constant Spring Road (in) the vicinity of the Scotiabank, motorists making a left turn will encounter these taxis, which are illegally parked on the left."
In the meantime, there is a call for the police and the Transport Authority to target the illegal taxis and to bring control to the public transport system.
Michael Morgan, president of the National Association of Taxi Operators, is suggesting that the stakeholders come to the table to discuss the matter.
"We need a meeting with all stakeholders because what is happening [is that] most of [them in] the hierarchy of the Transport Authority do not have the slightest idea in regard to this issue. They just sit in the AC and don't know what the daily operation are like," Morgan contends.