Tue | Jul 14, 2020

Passengers courting danger at gas stations

Published:Friday | February 28, 2020 | 12:11 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Taxis parked at the Total petrol station at 11A Constant Spring Road in St Andrew waiting for passengers. Many of the taxis, with engines running, load passengers on the pump, posing grave dangers to members of the public and operators at the station.
Taxis parked at the Total petrol station at 11A Constant Spring Road in St Andrew waiting for passengers. Many of the taxis, with engines running, load passengers on the pump, posing grave dangers to members of the public and operators at the station.

On any given day, thousands of commuters flirt with danger as they board cabs, with engines running on the pumps of gas stations – which have been converted into unofficial taxi stands – across the Corporate Area.

Tuesday night was no different at the Total service station at 11A Constant Spring Road in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, as passengers descended in droves on what has become one of the busiest pick-up points for taxis in the Corporate Area.

“Whitehall! Whitehall! Red Hills Road! One and ready!” loader men shout at commuters, with taxi drivers echoing their call in the distance as they solicit passengers.

An entrance on Constant Spring Road is also used frequently as an exit from the service station for both customers and taxis, further adding to the chaos.

The area is manned by a gatekeeper, who, at times, uses a moveable pole or chain to curtail vehicular movement.

Last Friday, disaster struck at the Heaven’s FESCO service station in Mandeville, Manchester, when an apparent leakage of fuel at a gas pump triggered a major fire that claimed the life of 59-year-old mechanic Daniel Farquharson and injured at least seven others.

Farquharson was the worst affected and succumbed to his injuries on Saturday, a day before his 60th birthday.

Twelve cars were also damaged in the blaze, which is still being probed by the police and the fire brigade.

Energy Minister Fayval Williams said that a safety inspection conducted at the Heaven’s FESCO petrol station in Mandeville in September 2019 found that the facility “was perfect in its operations”.

The minister was addressing the management and staff of the gas station during a visit last weekend.

Williams, however, said that based on what she saw in one of the many videos in circulation, there was a breach of best practices in the incident.

She also urged other service stations to ensure that their staff receive proper training so that they could respond appropriately in similar situations.

UNMOVED BY TRAGEDY

The events that unfolded in Manchester, however, seem to have had no bearing on the thousands of passengers who traverse areas within the Red Hills Road, Duhaney Park, and Whitehall Avenue communities and depend on the central and easiest mode of transport – taxis – parked at the Total service station on 11A Constant Spring Road.

Neither did it seem to affect those at the nearby RUBiS service station at the corner of Molynes and Eastwood Park roads.

One passenger, who spoke to The Gleaner on Tuesday, said that persons might not be considering the dangers that exist as they seek to get a ride home.

“A right here suh we get Whitehall and Red Hills Road taxi, when sun a shine or rain a fall, for years now,” one passenger at the Total service station told The Gleaner. “Mi not even sure if gas sell as much as how passenger load and move.”

Asked if she was aware of the FESCO tragedy, she said: “Yes, me see it on the video and hear it on news. If a did right here suh, more people dead or people probably lock up in a taxi ‘cause sometimes ... all the lanes on the pump full and people going back and forth – morning fi work, and school and evening time fi go back home. The space too small fi everybody escape, suh people would a burn up. God forbid!”

When approached by The Gleaner, a staff member at the service station declined to comment on the possible risks posed by the taxis at the station.

The taxi drivers, however, insist that they have nowhere else to offload and pick up passengers in the cramped Half-Way Tree area as these routes serve a large number of commuters daily.

One driver, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he and his colleagues had been discussing the FESCO incident.

“When you think bout it, car fi shut off from it reach on the pump, and if a fire fi gwan ya suh, a great damage ‘cause car nuh have space to turn. It bad enough, but we nuh have nowhere to go.”

Gregory Chung, president of the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers’ Association, said the organisation would be rolling out a public-education campaign on safe practices, noting that it was aware of gas stations being used for shelter and as informal taxi stands.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com