Sun | Jul 21, 2019

Montague vows to price ‘robots’ into submission

Published:Friday | February 8, 2019 | 10:03 AM

Transport and Mining Minister Robert Montague is hoping to price illegal public transport operators out of the industry or compel them to regularise their operations and assimilate into the formal industry.

“This year is the year of the ‘robot’ operators,” Montague said in reference to the colloquialism for unregistered cabbies. “It is going to get my full attention this year, and I have already written to the minister of justice because my mission this year is to make operating as a robot so expensive that you become legal,” he told public transportation stakeholders at a summit at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston yesterday.

According to Montague, there are 14,000 robot operators on the streets of Jamaica who escape a hefty mix of taxes and fees borne by 30,000 licensed public transport operators who have complained that the illegals erode their profit.

“It is not right, and it’s not fair that you ask persons to invest in an industry, you ask them to license themselves, and they do it,” the transport minister remarked, explaining the unlevel playing field that characterises public transportation. “You then ask them to obey the regulations, and they do it, and then we turn around and put the pressures of Jesus on top of them. It’s not right!”

Armed with an updated Road Traffic Act that was passed last year and is set to become law in months, if not weeks, Montague said the traffic police and Transport Authority would be militant in cracking down on all violations to bring order to the streets. The law will also cover new ground, banning, for the first time, the use of hand-held electronic devices like cell phones by drivers.

LACK OF COURTESY

The guile of robot taxi operators is legendary, marked by breakneck speed, reckless jostling, and traffic nightmares on Jamaica’s streets. But Montague’s bid to incorporate them as formal operators has drawn the ire of some transport interests who believe that the policy will further gridlock roads and worsen national productivity.

“Licensed industry players complain about the lack of civility, courtesy, and discipline from robot operators, and some worry that they have been wrongfully heaped together with their unruly counterparts,” said Montague.

But the minister pledged that he would draw a red line against the road rogues, bullish in the capacity of traffic watchdogs – as well as heavy fines and jail time – to transform a culture of chaos and lawlessness even if it means losing some votes.

“I am prepared to lose some friends but save this country, but at the end of the day, we must have a transport sector that is fitting of my country, Jamaica.

“There are some persons who should not be in this important sector, and there are some who should be in this sector but who are getting a fight, and the sector has never been able to come to its full and true potential. One of the reasons is that many persons operating in the public transportation sector believe it is a little hustle business. We’ve passed that stage,” he said.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com