Route inspectors aim for PPV order
They are often on the road at the crack of dawn, leaving the comfort of their homes and embrace of family to ensure that commuters travel safely and securely in vehicles manned by drivers and conductors who meet the standard required to protect the best interests of the travelling public. They are route inspectors, the inspector corps of the Transport Authority.
The men and women dressed in grey and white are empowered by law to stop and inspect any public passenger vehicle (PPV) to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of its road licence and relevant traffic enactments. There is a good reason for them stopping buses and taxis on the road as the crews of many vehicles, especially illegal ones, often cannot be located at the terminus.
To ensure that legitimate transport operators continue to honour the terms of their licence requirements, an inspector can stop and inspect any vehicle which he or she reasonably suspects is operating as a public passenger vehicle, contrary to the relevant road traffic laws.
This responsibility often places inspectors at odds with the PPV operators, as well as the informal defenders on many legally and illegally operated buses. Further, illegal taxi drivers (or 'robots', as they are popularly termed) have an ongoing hide-and-seek relationship with inspectors.
While the inspectors normally work on eight-hour shifts, this often changes as they are required to go on special operations islandwide.
Transport Authority route inspectors are trained in understanding and interpreting the Road Traffic Act and other relevant legislation, court procedures (including statement preparation), observation skills, customer relations, conflict resolution, leadership, communication and physical skills.
Oniel Claire is a route inspector who has experienced life on the beat from every angle.
"It is not easy being on the road. You have to face the fumes of the vehicles, the heat of the sun and other weather conditions and the anger of groups like illegal transport operators and some commuters. When you go on an operation, you may have to get up very early in order to organise the operation and work with the police and the JP (justice of the peace). You have to stop PPVs in many cases and check them for things like a properly maintained log book, the wearing of badges, uniforms, or the overcrowding of vehicles," Claire said.
Then there is the daily exposure to abuse.
"Sometimes, a passenger or a person who is neither a driver or conductor connected to the bus will attack you, including physically assaulting you, and there have been many examples of this over the years," Claire said.
"There is also the verbal abuse, even from passengers who don't know the functions of the Transport Authority. They only see the inconvenience, but many drivers and conductors appreciate our work as they realise that we are protecting them from unfair competition from illegal operators who reduce their earnings and place the lives of passengers, pedestrians and other motorists at greater risk," he said.
Despite the challenges, significant progress is being made in the fight to bring improved order to public transportation and protect the safety and security of the travelling public and all road users. A broader multi-agency approach is reaping significant gains. This involves the Transport Authority collaborating with the Mobile Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Traffic Headquarters, the Border and Vital Infrastructure Security Division of the JCF, and the Island Traffic Authority.