Sat | Mar 17, 2018

My car seizure torture: Why not simplify payment structure?

Published:Saturday | January 9, 2016 | 12:00 AM


It is clear that people in Jamaica are frustrated. Why are there always hundreds of people in government offices cursing about the inefficiency of the service, and just how annoying the process of donating thousands of dollars to the government is?

I had a rather, frustrating experience on Monday, January 4, 2016. I, a decent law-abiding citizen with no unpaid traffic ticket under my belt, got pulled over by a tall, dark policeman with perfectly shaved eyebrows in the Half-Way Tree area at approximately 8:45 a.m. It was brought to my attention that my vehicle registration had expired on November 30, 2015. This was news to me as I had not taken note, seeing that the December period (the grace time allotted) was extremely busy.

I did the first best thing; I told the truth. "Officer, I was not aware. Please, I am asking ... ." Before I could continue, I was slapped with a cold retort, "Sir, I am giving you a ticket." I am used to police personnel being this way, so I decided not to persist, but this rather angry officer went further to say, "Sir, give me your documents and step from the vehicle; I am seizing it."

I said in annoyance, "Is that really necessary, officer? My friend has an interview, and I really would like to take her there." His annoyance grew in his response. "That is not my concern!"

He then reached over and removed my keys from the vehicle. I felt like I was dealing with an aggressive bear. I tried to evoke some empathy: "Mr officer, do you feel comfortable denying this person of work? I would like to take her to her interview and she's late." He then pointed to the bus stop behind us and said, "All of those people want work." I ignored him because I realised this officer was angry about something I could not help with. The wrecker pulled up and hauled my vehicle off as I called a chartered cab to take me to the Cross Roads tax office, costing my first $500 of the day. And the debacle begins!



I was greeted by a line at the tax office that curved three times within the small space. I think there were about 42 people before me, but I wasn't counting. There were only two working tellers who were tending to these customers, so I guess that would explain me standing one hour and 25 minutes before I could render unto Caesar what belonged to him.

I paid the traffic fine - an alarming $10,000 - then I paid the vehicle registration for one year ($10,500), and because I shuddered to think of another run-in with an aggressive police officer, I paid for my fitness, $3,800, although it would not expire until another couple weeks.

With all this money being paid over to the Government, I wonder why it is so hard to hire more personnel to collect this money? Or, perhaps, investing in more online systems, so busy, working-class people can pay through e-banking and save themselves one hour and 25 minutes of unproductivity.

I then engaged one of the cabbies at the door who I would imagine are conveniently placed there to get business from many other distraught citizens like me. I arrived at the pound on Lyndhurst Road to see two security guards 'sprawled out' engaged in conversation. I explained the situation to the hefty-bodied mature female guard who was quick to notify me that at minutes to 11, no one is at the pound to prepare the documents necessary for the car to be released. Yet, the car was taken hauled there without any authoritative personnel to assess the vehicle.

My annoyance skyrocketed because the same guard, when asked where are these people and when they would return, could provide me with no response but, "Mi nuh wuk wid dem. Afta me nuh know." We exchanged some rather unfriendly words and I decided to call the Transport Authority, which placated me with a satisfactory response that the persons would be there in 20 minutes.

I waited impatiently and, upon them arriving, the crowd of persons waiting bombarded their little hut of a building. When I finally reached the worker with an unpleasant disposition, I was informed that she has a backlog of vehicles to deal with, so I would have to wait indefinitely for her to deal with me.

I felt like a dormant volcano waiting to explode, so I called back the Transport Authority, where a supervisor then informed me to pay the wrecker fee in the meantime. I then called a cab, another $500, to Maxfield Avenue, paid over $8,000 and then back to the pound - another $500. By this, I became exhausted, and the large sums of money to be paid started to set in. Nonetheless, I persevered.

By this time, the worker had finally cleared her backlog of records and prepared my documents. I was then instructed to go to Elletson Road Police Station to have them "sign off" on the vehicle release. This then cost me $700 to get to the station.

At the station is another episode of its own. The police dragged their feet and I even found a corner shop to reluctantly partake in some fried chicken and rice. After waiting about one hour and 15 minutes, the documents finally were signed off. I had to then call a cab yet again, costing the same $700 to the Transport Authority to pay what was termed 'storage fee'. I was told prior that it would've cost $5,000. I was appalled, but had prepared my mind to make this final payment.



To my horror, I got to the Transport Authority and saw a notice on the door, "Attention, Transport Authority is closed on January 4th... ." I could not help it anymore. I was overwhelmed, my emotions threw me on the floor and I could not stop the tears from flowing down my face. It was one of the most terrible days of my life.

I am sure others have had similar experiences. That's just based on the many people I met cursing at the pound and at the Elletson Road station who were all in a sort of impromptu focus group as they waited by the door for their documents to be 'signed off'.

There are a number of things that bother me deeply. Number one is the $34,600 I incurred just in an attempt to get back my car. Number 2: After pushing so hard to sort things out, at the end of it, I still was not able to get it back. Number 3: The rigmarole to releasing a vehicle is RIDICULOUS.

I suggest that despite the Government trying to teach people a lesson when their car is impounded, some people genuinely are not offenders and would appreciate that the process be simplified and made more convenient. How about, placing representatives from the different offices at the pound to deal with their transactions independently? To put it simply, have cubicles with different personnel handling each stage of the process in that central location: the pound, the police, Transport Authority, the wrecker.

Maybe then, people would not have such a negative view of the Government, and just maybe then, others will be motivated to be better citizens. When people feel like the system is helping them, they will be more willing to help the system.