Illegal taxi operators overrun gas stations under impotent police watch in Half-Way Tree
Illegal taxi men and rogue cops have combined to make life a living hell for some gas station operators in the Corporate Area, having transformed their premises into informal taxi stands.
The illicit practice oftentimes occurs while members of the police force either turn a blind eye, actively participate or demand a bribe from these taxi operators while customers of these gas stations are inconvenienced and the business operators lose thousands of dollars in revenue.
"Yes, it affects the overall sales of the business, and the Coasters also are an impact, too, because they block up the whole place and block up the entrances. I am losing a significant amount of money," one gas station operator told The Sunday Gleaner.
"I have lost two big contracts as a direct result of the taxi men," another merchant on Constant Spring Road revealed.
"One contract usually brings in $300,000, sometimes $400,000 every fortnight, sometimes I even made that from the company within a week, depending on their workload. The next one I would get $20,000 and upwards weekly.
"The previous owner lost the business because of that (taxi men blocking up the service station), as he couldn't make enough money to pay for his gas, and I am afraid the same thing might happen to me."
But the taxi men argue that they are the main clients for these service stations and they were there before some of the owners so they should be accommodated.
REVENUE NOT ENOUGH
"Is about the third owner come here and see we. We help support the business. We buy gas, buy food and a we mek man nuh rob yah so," said one taxi driver parked at a petrol station waiting on his turn to load.
However, the gas station's owner does not share this view, as the revenue generated from purchases made by taxi operators is said to be not enough to keep the petrol stations afloat.
"I have a pump that I labelled taxi pump, and only taxis are supposed to be sold from it. That is the cheapest pump on the entire Constant Spring Road, and for a full day I do not make $30,000 off that pump," one proprietor explained.
"What they will do is come and park on the pump, not allowing any business to be done from that pump. If anything is said to them some will move, but some will just fan you off while others will cuss you and there is a whole lot of abuse."
To compound matters, most of the taxis observed at the various gas stations-turned-taxi stands visited by The Sunday Gleaner in the Half-Way Tree area over a three-day period last week had white plates. This means not only are they unlawfully parked on private properties, but also illegally operating as public passenger vehicles.
"The white plate man them more than the red plate man them, and the white plate man them have more talk than the red plate man them, because them and the policeman them a friend. All transport (Transport Authority) man them will a run them down and nah really try catch them," charged one taxi driver.
For the three days our news team staked out the gas stations in Half-Way Tree, uniformed policemen and women could be seen walking, riding and driving through some of the gas stations without as much as batting an eye at the illegal operations in progress.
In instances some, members of the police force were seen engaged in casual chatter with some of the taxi men, with one policeman even giving high fives to a few.
"Police that frequent the area turn a blind eye because they have cars there as well and these taxi men drive for them. So all of them are friends, so they (police) do nothing to help," one visibly annoyed merchant alleged.
The merchant's charges were confirmed by our news team as we met a man who claimed to be a policeman who operates an illegal taxi when off duty. He told our news team that he was not afraid of the law.
"Police no really trouble mi, because mi a one a them, just Transport Authority. Mi no trouble taxi man either when mi a work, only if them violate and park at certain spot where them not to park me wi run them," said the self-professed cop.
For the taxi operators, paying off the police is a normal part of business.
PAYING POLICE NORMAL
"Police dem a human being, so if a police get up this morning and him have a $15,000 light bill and him can come and collect a $5,000 from one man and shut him eye, and $5,000 from another man and shut him eye, and $5,000 from a next one and shut him eye and pay him light bill, he is going to do it," said one taxi operator who has been operating illegally for more than a decade.
"From you give a man a thing you and him develop a good little relationship, a you friend that. A nuh a man who you go him yard go sit down, but a you friend. Meaning that's a man who will call you all 10 o'clock in the night and say 'yow, come carry mi go mi yard', and guess where him live. Ochi. Or, him say 'yow, you dun work? Lend mi you car nuh', and you nuh see him back until all tomorrow morning," added the driver.
Another taxi driver explained the method that he uses to continue to operate his white plate taxi with little or no molestation from police.
"There is no specific time to pay or no agreed figure. The thing is that there is more than one (policemen), sometimes you have to pay all of them, or the one that you pay will look out for you and tell the others say 'a fi mi linky that'," the taxi driver shared.
One veteran taxi operator, who drives for himself and has other cars that he contracts out to drivers, boasted that he has developed enough contacts that he can call in any situation.
"If mi a drive go up the road and a motorised police stop mi, mi have a motorised police mi can call; if a traffic police stop mi, mi have one who mi can call; and if a Half-Way Tree police stop mi, mi have a Half-Way Tree police who mi can call."