Terror-free taxi rides! - Criminals force drivers to effect new personal security measures
Under pressure from criminals who are preying on them, taxi operators in the Corporate Area have instituted several personal security measures and the police have vowed to assist them.
Some route taxi operators last week told The Sunday Gleaner that among the new measures is that they are declining some requests for "turn off" by passengers, particularly at nights.
A turn off is when a passenger offers to pay an additional sum to the route taxi operator to leave the designated route and take them to their destination.
According to Robert Anderson, a 15-year taxi driver, these measures are vital for the safety of taxi operators who continue to be targeted by robbers who take advantage of the darkness and dearth of police patrols at nights.
Anderson operates a licensed cab from Half-Way Tree to Papine, St Andrew; a route supplying many communities and from which drivers divert at passengers' requests for an extra $50. The practice is illegal but convenient for passengers with much baggage.
"No turn offs after certain hours. I don't join that! You don't take me off my route," declared Anderson.
"That can cost you nuff things. If a man tells you him want a turn off in Hope Pastures. Hope Pastures is lonely, nobody will see anything if him rob you around there. On the main road, people can see you openly. You can shout if anything," added Anderson.
Other precautionary measures taken by the operator include the screening of potential passengers. This is usually done with the assistance of the 'loader men' who seek to lure passengers into the taxis.
"The loader men are in charge of the vehicles at nights. They ensure that all of the passengers who enter are checked. They don't put any strange individuals into the vehicle," said Bijean Gayle, a young taxi operator on the Half-Way Tree to Papine route.
The cab drivers have also started favouring female passengers over males, the reduction of the darkness of the tints on their vehicles and ensuring that no male passenger sits directly behind the driver.
Some taxi operators avoid working at nights all together, while others stay away from certain volatile communities, especially those in the gritty St Andrew South Police Division.
At least six taxi operators have been killed across the island since January. They include Kenroy Grant, 28, who was shot dead in Bethel Town, Westmoreland, in August; Anthony Morgan, whose throat was slashed in Bucknor, Clarendon, in July; Robert Pryce, who was shot dead in the Fairview Housing Scheme in St Catherine in March; and Nadine Spence who while operating her Toyota Noah motor vehicle from Montego Bay to Spring Mount in St James was gunned down by a passenger in the Tucker community.
The slayings prompted the police in July to host a series of safety meetings with taxi operators as part of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's Robbery Prevention Strategy.
Last Thursday, Inspector Keith Steele of the Half-Way Tree Police Station, which manages the busiest transportation hub in the Corporate Area, told The Sunday Gleaner that no report of an attack on a taxi drivers has been filed at the station in recent times.
"Based on our data, we have had no reports of any taxi operators being robbed, being killed or anything like that in this division in recent times," said Steele.
But Kenston Thompson, who has been operating a taxi for the past 40 years, says many attacks have not been reported.
Thompson, who has been attacked by gunmen posing as passengers on three occasions, believes he is lucky to be alive.
"The last time was little under two years ago. Four passengers take the car and everybody come off leave me and one man. Him was in the front seat beside me," recalled Thompson.
"When me reach little bit past the intersection of Waltham and Hagley Park Road him just pull out a big chrome gun and demanded that I give him the car," said Thompson.
He told our news team that he fought the gunman who bit him on the arm during a struggle. Both men were flung from the vehicle when the gunman used the pistol to hit Thompson over the head, rendering him unconscious.
The gunman abandoned the vehicle metres away after the engine died.
Yawny Rapley, another taxi operator, whose throat was slashed by a bandit while working in Cross Roads two years ago, operates a chartered taxi. He trusts God as he operates until the wee hours of daybreak daily.
"God is my guide. I don't worry about anything. We afraid yes, but we have to live," said Rapley. "I go anywhere, because what happen to the genuine people that live in certain areas and hours catch them and they want to go home? You going to say you not going to take them home because a two idiot buoy? No, man!"