Companies admit to dispatching illegal taxis to collect passengers
The authorities have expressed serious concern that popular taxi services across the Corporate Area have been engaged in the practice of dispatching illegal taxis commonly referred to as 'robot' taxis to route passengers across the Kingston Metropolitan Area and sometimes, unsuspecting visitors from the Norman Manley International Airport into the city.
Under-pressure law enforcers say in addition to the unruly taxi operators who create havoc on the roads, those that operate under the name of taxi-service companies are making their jobs even more complicated, as, increasingly, they are being forced to contend with their illegal operation daily.
"We have seized almost 8,500 illegal taxis since the start of the year, but we are in the process of trying to analyse and break down the figure to get some more specifics," assistant commissioner of police in charge of traffic, Calvin Allen, disclosed yesterday as he condemned the practice.
Managing directors of some of Kingston's most popular taxi services with whom The Gleaner spoke all admitted that, in some instances, they send "white-plate" taxis to the gates of passengers, even while acknowledging the practice, was dangerous and could expose passengers to serious risk.
No enough road licences
Some blamed the transport authorities for not issuing enough road licences to supply demand because of a policy which came into effect two years ago to suspend the issuance of road licence.
"The Transport Authority allotted a certain number of road licences [which we have Exhausted] and we have requested more to make our fleet fully legal. They were the ones who actually hold us out," said Wayne Buchanan, managing director of El Shaddai taxi service, as he sought to justify the practice.
He downplayed the extent to which his company was engaged in the practice, pointing out that he did not have "a substantive" number of illegal taxis in his fleet.
Acknowledging, however, that the issue was one that could affect the integrity of his company, Buchanan promised to eliminate it by March next year.
That date might prove to be too long, because the police have said they would not tolerate the operation of illegal taxis this holiday season, especially given the increased number of fatalities caused by road accidents.
The flagrant disregard of the Road Traffic Act does not only have implications for the disobedient taxi operators who sometimes have their vehicles impounded, but also for the passengers they transport, as many of them, after being involved in an accident, have been turned down by insurance companies and health-care providers when they seek compensation for sometimes very serious and life-threatening injuries.
"It is a serious issue. We have a number of them out there. Persons are taking these vehicles and they [illegal operators] are not authorised to be carrying them, because if an accident or something happens, they will not get compensation, so it is a big concern," Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay of the police Corporate Communications Unit told The Gleaner.
When the issue was put to Phillip Fearon, the managing director of On Time Taxi service, he said that oftentimes when his company dispatched white-plate taxis to collect passengers, it was because "we do not have any [taxis] available in the red-plate line".
"We normally try our best to inform the passengers about it," he said, adding that his company was in the process of taking action to legitimise the white-plate operators, though he could not give a timeline for completion.
Fearon said that his company has established a process for approval of taxis to operate under its name.
"We get the taxi and we check their documents to ensure they have all that is needed to be a legitimate operator ... insurance, and so on, but the issue is getting the road licence," he said, adding that at times he would personally go on the road to check that On Time Taxis are compliant with the standards of the company.
Owen Clarke of Express Taxi Service also confessed that his company was engaged in the practice, also claiming that customer demand has forced him to dispatch robots.
That explanation, however, has not gone down well with Allen, who said he was not prepared for compromise of the Road Traffic Act.
"They have to comply with the terms of the Road Traffic Act. We cannot condone the whole argument that because of demand, you are going to go ahead and operate without having the requisite licence. We cannot support anything like that," the assistant commissioner said.