Regulating disorder … Transport Authority incapable of stemming lawlessness on the roads, say operators
‘Regulated disorder’ is how a leader in the public transport system describes the chaos happening on the roadways, and the inability of the Transport Authority (TA) to deal with the problem.
The Transport Authority exists to regulate the privately owned part of the public transport system. However, with visibly overstuffed buses and taxis, illegal operations, and overcharging, among several ills, many believe it is failing to implement order, discipline and efficiency.
“It is regulated disorder,” stated Louis Barton, president of Jamaica Association of Transport Owners and Operators (JATOO), and long-time advocate for transport operators. “They [Transport Authority] say they ‘regulate with vision’ but I say they are Cyclops.”
He argued that the TA operates as a police for the transport system, but much more is needed. He said Jamaica needs a transport policy and a system that can move people in a timely and efficient manner.
Head of the National Council of Taxi Associations (NCOTA), Allan Blair, said the Transport Authority doesn’t have the necessary resources, hence it can only do the best it can with what it has.
This inadequacy, Barton noted, helps contribute to the indiscipline. One such glaring example, he said, is the lack of parking areas for taxi operators all over the Corporate Area.
“A big part of the indiscipline is the lack of proper parking. And this is all over. You go to Cross Roads, Parade, Half-Way Tree, along the main roads in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR), there are yellow lines everywhere, with nowhere to stop. But a passenger wants transportation, so he waits by the sidewalk at the ‘no parking’ and the driver wants the fare, so he stops,” Barton told The Sunday Gleaner.
In fact, the operators noted, the shortage of bus and taxi parks is islandwide, resulting in parking violations and confrontations with the law, which is creating congestion in many rural towns and fuelling the disorder.
This, they said, is compounded by the preference of illegal transport operators to stop at the most advantageous areas or those easily accessed by passengers.
Gas stations all across the country as well as plazas and town squares are used as terminuses, for parking, drop off and pick up of passengers.
In Port Maria, St Mary, for instance, the designated bus park, Horace Clarke Transport Centre, is not used by transport operators. They instead illegally use the privately owned Hi-Lo Plaza on Stennett Street. Commuters go there for transportation going to Highgate and Annotto Bay as well as to Ocho Rios, St Ann, and Kingston.
According to commuters, when police officers and Transport Authority inspectors are patrolling the areas, it becomes even more distressing for them, as they now have to walk a long distance, with conductors shepherding them to the locations where the buses and taxis are parked. And this happens right across the country.
In Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, there is no facility for the taxis that operate around the Mandela Park area. Hence, part of Constant Spring Road, Half-Way Tree Road, Clock Tower Plaza, and Hope Road are used as terminuses. This often contributes to the gridlock in this urban centre.
On the other side of Half-Way Tree, the gas station at Molynes and Eastwood Park roads has become a terminus for coaster buses and taxis, especially in the evenings.
Sunday Gleaner investigations show that though police sometimes monitor the Eastwood Park/Molynes Road illegal stop and try to prevent the chaos, there are no checks by the Transport Authority.
CAT AND MOUSE GAME
Even in cases where there are adequate parking areas or transport centres, many operators simply don’t use them.
Spanish Town, St Catherine, is one of the biggest transport hubs in the country, with four large bus and taxi parks. Yet, as head of the Spanish Town Taxi Association, Aaron Mattis, explained, operators play a cat and mouse game with police and TA inspectors, especially at the King Street facility.
Edgerton Newman believes that the Transport Authority and the police are not doing their job, resulting in what he calls a “chaotic system”.
“The state of the public transport system right now is anarchy,” Newman said.
He thinks the TA inspectors are overwhelmed by the lack of buses in the KMTR, and a system outside of Kingston that badly needs to be overhauled.
Newman, a strong advocate for privately owned bus and taxi operators across the country, is now head of the Transport Operators Development for Sustainable Services, which he said is made up of nearly 7,000 members.
Heads of taxi associations and leadership of the groups, including Barton, Newman and Mattis, credit the TA for some of the training it is doing, but they believe some of the TA officers themselves need training.