No room for robots - JUTC rejects fresh call to regularise illegal taxi operators
Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter
Chairman of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), the Reverend Garnett Roper, has rejected the latest call from illegal route taxi operators for their services to be regularised.
After a Sunday Gleaner exposé on illegal route taxi operators who have taken over some gas stations in Half-Way Tree, some of these operators argued that if their service were regularised and the routes officially assigned by the JUTC order could return to the system.
But Roper argued that this was tried without success with illegal minibus operators in the early 1990s, when the State left the system and assigned the routes to what became the National Transport Cooperative Society.
"It wouldn't be sustainable for them. They can't even pay insurance. They can't even buy tyres. Their service is not sustainable," argued Roper.
"What they are suggesting is not sustainable. We weeded out several hundred Coaster operators over a couple of years and the rest of them weeded out themselves. But what we are left with are still people who agreed to pay the franchise fee and now they are asking for it to be halved. It doesn't work. All they want is a toe in the door," added Roper.
Provide valuable service
The illegal route taxi operators had claimed that they provide a valuable service and would be of great value to the JUTC if their service were legitimised and regulated.
"Because even at the transport centre, if they mark a floor and say the yellow buses right yah so, di taxis dem right yah so, and the Coasters deh right yah so. So when you a leave your house you decide if you want to go take a yellow bus, a taxi or a Coaster," argued one illegal route taxi operator with more than a decade in the business.
"What is the JUTC's problem right now is that they are looking to increase income only by looking to increase seats, so they will have a bigger profit, and it doesn't necessarily work that way because when you increase the income with the seats you are also increasing your expenditure.
"So all they need to do is to make the taxi dem fall under the JUTC banner and the seats that they would be losing they would make it back from di taxi man dem. And not only that, they would need less buses on the road, so they would reduce expenditure. Because when the flow of traffic stops at 10 o'clock you still have that 100-seater bus nah carry nobody," argued the veteran taxi operator.
However, Roper is not interested in this partnership. He said the JUTC is instead looking to eradicate illegal taxi operators by making it more attractive for commuters to take the JUTC buses.
"We are weeding out all of them (illegal taxi men), but we are going to make the commuters weed them out first. If you put $2,000 on your Smarter Card and you get $2,000 more from JUTC, you have $4,000 on your card, you are going to take the bus, because it is not going to cost you a cent for the rest of the month," reasoned Roper.
"Every time you take a taxi you have to go into your pocket. So you won't take the illegal operators, and as long as you don't take it they won't have a business.
"But what I hope is that simultaneously ... the real economy will start to perform, so that a man won't feel the need to go sit in the sun or stay in their car until two o'clock in the morning hoping that he can get some business when the party over," added Roper.
However, one taxi operator, who started out with one car and has since earned enough to buy more vehicles and has employed other drivers for his growing fleet, hit back by accusing Roper and others at the helm of the transport sector of not knowing what they are doing.
"This Government has a man who never run a Coaster, never run a taxi, nuh have no experience wid di road. How di hell you have him as minister of transport? How di hell you have him as you managing director for a bus company?" the driver questioned.
"Garnett Roper ever tek a taxi? Garnett Roper knows anything 'bout taxi work or bus work? Him only can look at figures and try manipulating and cutting this and cutting that, but him nuh know transport. Is a man out there who has one Coaster and have to pay back the loan, take care a him family and ensure say that Coaster keep running, a him can tell yu about transport business."