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JUTC: 'Robots' buy bullets - Bus company exec warns illegal taxis earn cash for gangsters

Published:Monday | July 13, 2015 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
Taxis block this Jamaica Urban Transit Company bus by the Spencer James Drive bus park in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew yesterday.

A warning is being issued that members of the criminal underworld own a "substantial number" of the illegal taxis that have flooded the streets of the Corporate Area.

The warning comes from chairman of the state-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), the Reverend Garnett Roper, who charged yesterday that persons who ride on these 'robot' taxis are helping gangsters purchase illegal guns and bullets.

"It's important that the public know that there is a relationship between the irregular [hackney carriers using their vehicles as robots], the illegal and the criminal. A substantial number of the taxis that you see on the road are owned by sections of organised crime," Roper asserted in an interview with The Gleaner yesterday.

"And the money that is being spent by the public is directly fuelling the buying of bullets and the likes," he underscored.

The JUTC chairman was guarded when asked to provide evidence to substantiate his assertion, but disclosed that "recently we have seen a flood of [model withheld] vehicles on the road.

"You telling me is random people buying them?" he questioned.

However, while admitting that he was not aware of the allegation, Assistant Commissioner of Police Devon Watkis, who heads the Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Division (C-TOC), told The Gleaner he would not dismiss it either.

"I have not had any occasion, in a definitive way, to prove those assertions. However, I am mindful that the principle of organised crime thrives on proceeds, so I would not wish to dismiss it without having an opportunity to determine the veracity of such an assertion," Watkis said.

"It is something that's worth looking into and we will do just that."

Roper's claim comes as the cash-strapped bus company is reporting that its ridership, especially among adults, was down by approximately 25,000 persons per day between March and June this year.

According to him, the JUTC's passenger load fell from approximately 230,000 per day prior to March to 205,000 at the end of June.

The JUTC chairman said the decrease comes despite an increase in the number of commuters purchasing Smarter Cards and blamed it on the explosion of illegal taxis operating across the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region.

As a result, he had strong words for the police, the Transport Authority and the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC).

"I'm sure the Transport Authority and the police would say otherwise, but they are virtually invisible in so far as enforcement and traffic violations are concerned," he lamented.

However, Roper said the state-owned bus company has since managed to reclaim as much as 14,000 passengers per day, thanks to a $20 rollback in bus fares under a special summer promotion that runs from July 5 until late next month.

Notwithstanding, he insisted that the KSAC - as the local authority - must start enforcing municipal parking regulations across the Corporate Area.

"That Spencer James area [behind Mandela Park] in Half-Way Tree is a scandal. You have all these people [taxi operators] park there, what happen to the municipal regulations about parking?" he questioned.

"The KSAC has to wake up and stop shouting at people and frustrating them and start doing its job of enforcing municipal regulations. That is not something you do in New Kingston alone, it's citywide, [and] Half-Way Tree deserves the attention of the KSAC," the JUTC chairman continued.

Town Clerk Robert Hill acknowledged that there has been very little parking or traffic enforcement in the area, but said there is an arrangement in place for the police to manage this and other heavily traversed corridors through the Corporate Area.

"I only have 11 traffic wardens at the KSAC, the spread of which only gives me a limited scope for them to operate, so ... the police, based on the Road Traffic Act, have a wider scope of activities and coverage they can use," Hill explained.