Wed | Dec 6, 2023

Plugging traffic ticket loopholes

Published:Sunday | November 19, 2023 | 12:11 AMSteven Jackson - Senior Business Reporter

The Government of Jamaica plans to install new software that closes loopholes for traffic ticket evaders. It is inviting consultants to tender solutions this month, and stakeholders met on Tuesday to discuss the business case for implementing the...

The Government of Jamaica plans to install new software that closes loopholes for traffic ticket evaders.

It is inviting consultants to tender solutions this month, and stakeholders met on Tuesday to discuss the business case for implementing the system.

Essentially, the state wants to link the driver with the car.

The current system is old and partially manual, and set to crash at any moment, said the tender document released last week. The new system would link the driver’s licence and the licensing of motor vehicles in a fully digital format, and accessible by regulatory and enforcement bodies, including Tax Administration of Jamaica, the Island Traffic Authority, the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and the courts.

“The proposed integrated motor vehicle diver’s licence system (IMVDLS) will, among other things, ensure payments of outstanding traffic tickets to renew driver’s licences and create greater system efficiencies,” said the project’s implementing body, the Ministry of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport.

Traffic ticket fines hover at just under $1 billion annually. In fiscal year 2022, a total of 307,338 tickets were issued for various traffic offences, of which the largest category amounting to 16.4 per cent was for speeding, as reported in the Economic and Social Survey Jamaica. The report did not quantify the value of the tickets.

About half of the near $1 billion in tickets is generally paid over to the Government yearly, while the rest is either being contested in court, or outstanding, according to government data analysed by the Financial Gleaner.

Motorists who miss the short online payment window but subsequently pay the fine after an appearance in court account for just five per cent of total traffic tickets and are counted as a separate category from those cases still before the courts.

The ongoing court cases account for more than one-third of total tickets, particularly motorists contesting their fines; but it isn’t clear whether the figure also includes no-show cases, that is, motorists who have no intention of paying and abscond.

Some $1.8 billion worth of traffic tickets were issued from 2020 to 2021, and of that figure, $750 million was either before the courts or outstanding.

The tender document seeking the consultant to develop a business case for IMVDLS doesn’t put a price tag on the lost revenue. The new system will integrate with the recently adopted Road Traffic Act, which sees new functions going to the Island Traffic Authority.

For commuters, the big changes to come include the issuing of a penalty regime for failure to pay traffic tickets on time. This has pained commuters in the past who are required to appear before a judge in the Traffic Court before they can pay the fine.

The new system will also establish a national motor vehicle registry for all autos, whether or not they are operated on public or private property; and impose the requirement for the payment of outstanding traffic tickets as a prerequisite for renewal of driver’s and motor vehicle licences.

The present software isn’t able to fully carry out these functions. The current processes rely heavily on paper documents which must be checked and authenticated by staff, the ministry said.

“These processes are time-consuming and subject to errors. The lack of automation in critical areas coupled with the limited sharing of information across agencies, particularly the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Courts have created loopholes that are often exploited by the public. A combination of manual and automated processes that are not fully integrated further accentuates inefficiency in service delivery and provides the opportunity for fraud or corruption,” it said.

The current system was described in the tender as outdated and arguably unreliable. And that if it were to fail, the Jamaican Government would be unable to issue driver’s licences and maintain motor vehicle records.

“In the event the system is not replaced, there is the possibility of system failure, data loss, identity theft, the opportunity for fraud, and disruption of service. Moreover, system failure will prevent the authorities from doing the necessary checks and balances for motor vehicles and driver’s licence records,” it stated.

The consultant being recruited will be required to guide procurement of the replacement software, develop a business case that details a road map for the implementation of an integrated system across all relevant motor vehicle and driver’s licence organisations, and make a recommendation for the type of system that is best suited for the full implementation of the new Road Traffic Act.

The tender opens on November 28, but a closing date was not publicised, nor was the Financial Gleaner able to ascertain the date. Efforts to gain access to last Tuesday’s meeting were also unsuccessful.

The Jamaican Government earns revenue of about $5 billion annually from the issuance and renewals of motor vehicle licences, according to the ESSJ report published by the Planning Institute of Jamaica.

For fiscal years 2020 and 2021, issued traffic tickets were valued at $830 million and $970 million, respectively. The top offence, the non-wearing of seat-belts, accounted for a quarter of the tickets; while speeding accounted for one-tenth.