Transport Authority to clamp down on operators of illegal school buses
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
The Transport Authority has signalled that it intends to accelerate initiatives to clamp down on illegal school-bus operators this year.
Communications manager at the Transport Authority Petra-Keane Williams told The Sunday Gleaner that plans are in train to bring illegally operated school buses to book with the introduction of a raft of stringent measures, in addition to tried and proven strategies.
"The Transport Authority has been monitoring and regulating the school-bus system," declared Williams.
"We have done several road operations, particularly in the Portmore area because that is where many of the school-bus services providers operate from. It is an ongoing operation," added Williams.
Data supplied by Williams revealed that between February and September 2012, the Transport Authority had 18 road operations in the Portmore Municipality which resulted in 43 prosecutions.
According to Williams, some of the vehicles that were intercepted had been transporting students.
"Those vehicles have been placed on a list that we monitor very closely," she said.
Williams also moved to clarify issues surrounding the licenses issued to school-bus operators.
She said these persons are currently issued with contract-carriage licences.
"This is the appropriate licence, it is not like the route taxi, contrary to what has been reported. These licences are issued to the operators based on the intended contracts that they present to the Transport Authority," Williams explained.
"If you are going to receive a licence for a contract, you must be able to present to the authority the information that justifies a contract," argued Williams.
And, contrary to claims made by school-bus operators, Williams said the contract-carriage licence does not limit them to providing only school-bus service.
"He/she may operate as a school-bus carrier, while not restricted in off-peak season as he/she may operate on other contracts.
"Like any other business, the operator would have secured a contract to make his business viable as he is able to secure other contracts in the off seasons."
Williams told The Sunday Gleaner that while the Transport Authority is not currently accepting contract-carriage licences, it was moving to establish a protocol that would help to better regulate the system and how these categories of vehicles work.
"It may mean that we will have to put some special conditions for those types of vehicles to get those licences, for example, (and) that the operators should specify when they are transporting school children," said Williams.
She emphasised that special care has to be taken when vehicles with young children are intercepted.
"When we intercept vehicles that are transporting children without the requisite road licence, the vehicle seizure is not the preferred option because we have a responsibility to protect our children," said Williams
Added Williams: "We find many (vehicles) are transporting young children, three years old, and so on. The authority deals with them in a special way, sometimes they are prosecuted, depending on the nature of the offence."
Williams said the authority then implements a follow-up system on these offenders. "We look and see how these vehicles are operated in the future."
In this regard, she said that the authority is also looking at ways to bring illegal operators into the formal system.
The Transport Authority was reacting to claims by chairman of the Portmore School Transport Association (Contract) Hector Rowe that enough was not being done to clamp down on the illegal operators of school buses.
Rowe also charged that the system now operated by the Transport Authority created roadblocks for persons who operate legally.