Wed | Sep 30, 2020

Letter of the Day | Deal with the real problems, Minister Montague

Published:Tuesday | February 19, 2019 | 12:00 AM


Recently, transport Minister Robert Montague announced a raft of measures he intends to implement as early as April 1, 2019.

These include, among other things:

1. Instalment of tracking systems on all public passenger vehicles (PPVs).

2. The formalisation of all ‘robot taxis’, or illegal operators.

3. Uniforms for all PPV operators.

4. Stiffer fines and penalties for illegal operators, etc.

While I applaud the minister’s vision to have a comfortable and professional transportation sector, the sad reality is that there are a number of underlying issues that will prevent this from happening unless addressed.

The minister can’t be living in a vacuum with regard to these issues, as they are all around him, staring all of us in the face every day.

The first issue is with the Transport Authority (TA). It is tardy, to say the least, with the processing and issuing of road licences for the various transport operators. The TA just doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the load of applications. It functions like a monopoly handicapped by bureaucratic bungling.

Just ask several applicants how long it takes them to get their licence after submitting all their documents; it’s anywhere from three to four months and beyond. In the meantime, some of them still work illegally as the loans still have to be paid, food has to be bought, and bills have to be paid. Some of these operators have their vehicles seized and impounded by the police, compounding the problems.

The second issue is poor road conditions. I have not heard the minister mention anything about the poor condition of the roads. I pray for the day to come when all drivers in Jamaica can drive on pothole-free roads that are well lit and marked with the relevant signs and stop lights where they ought to be. Sadly, the reality is the complete opposite.

Pothole-riddled roads with no light and markings are the norm when driving across Jamaica, contributing to bad driving, accidents, and stress to the PPV drivers, in particular, because they have to continually work under these conditions. All of these contribute to high maintenance costs and, coupled with the cost of keeping the vehicle, will drive an owner mad if he or she is not business-savvy.

The minister seems to feel that PPV operators are awash with cash because now, they will have to install tracking devices on their vehicles come April. Is this minister for real? In addition to the cost of insurance, fuel, a road licence and membership, operators will now have to find money to pay for tracking monthly. And yet, there is no indication as to when fares will be increased to offset some of these costs.

No wonder the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) is bleeding billions with no end in sight, because the cost to run the JUTC outweighs the revenues.

Some PPV operators have to increase their fares, be it illegally, as a means to remain viable. I hope the minister will address some of these issues in the near future before trying to put a Band-Aid over a boil.