The deaths of two motorcyclists in separate incidents in Negril, Westmoreland, on the weekend has triggered fresh safety concerns over the illegal 'bike-taxi' industry that is thriving in a number of western parishes.
The Road Safety Unit in the transport ministry, which raised the concerns, acknowledged that the two men killed on Saturday were not using their motorcycles as taxis, but warned that the practice was becoming increasingly dangerous.
Director of the unit, Kenute Hare, who was part of a group that was in Negril to distribute road safety tips to revellers at the annual ATI party series, said the practice was rife with breaches of the Road Traffic Act as in some instances up to eight persons, including children, were being transported on one bike.
In addition, he said these persons do not wear helmets and most of the 'bike-taxi' operators only have a learners' permit.
Hare said he has asked the Westmoreland police to swiftly crack down on the practice, which has been in existence for years.
"It can't continue. We can't have one section of the country flouting the law in such a profound and blatant manner and we sit by and do nothing," he told The Gleaner.
However, Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis, who heads the Police Traffic Division, said the Negril police were aware of the practice but added that they were hesitant to pursue them because of the risks involved.
Pointing out that police personnel have confirmed Hare's claim of overcrowding and other violations, Lewis said he was in agreement with the decision not to pursue these illegal operators.
"Is all good to say that the police must take action, but if the police take action is a different thing," he insisted.
"If they pursue them and anything happen when that bike crash and you hear three or four or five persons are killed then you never hear the end of it," he said.
Lewis said the police have conducted numerous operations and have seized scores of motorcycles, but argued that the problem requires assistance from the political representatives in the communities where the practice is prevalent.
"Because it has now become a livelihood and although it is illegal, it is something the people in these communities depend on," he said.
Added Lewis: "This thing is a big, big problem."
The two motorcyclists, Roberto Jarrett and Fitzroy Higgins, both 19-years-old, were among four persons killed on the nation's roadways over the Emancipation and Independence holidays.
The others are 88-year-old Phillip McLaughlin of Windsor Castle, in Portland, who was hit by a car while walking along the roadway and 44-year-old teacher Novia Reid, who succumbed to injuries she received in a crash along the Melrose main road in Manchester on Monday.
The driver of the car that reportedly hit McLaughlin was taken into police custody while St Andrew businessman Shane Miller has been charged with manslaughter in connection with Reid's death.
The latest fatalities bring to 156 the number of persons who have been killed in motor vehicle crashes since the start of the year.
This is still well below the 190 recorded over the corresponding period last year, but the Road Safety Unit said four deaths over six days was still cause for concern.
"We should still be able to go under 300 (road fatalities for the calendar year) but it doesn't augur well for how we start the month," Hare emphasised.