‘Everywhere you turn, macka jook you’
Commuters crying out for authorities to rein in taxi operators who are ‘robbing’ them
The feat is not for the impatient or claustrophobic, and at peak hours, it involves long waits, pushing, shoving, and the deadly COVID-19 disease lurking inches from those who dare. For many Jamaican commuters, however, there is little choice –...
The feat is not for the impatient or claustrophobic, and at peak hours, it involves long waits, pushing, shoving, and the deadly COVID-19 disease lurking inches from those who dare.
For many Jamaican commuters, however, there is little choice – much like their say in fares being asked of them from taxi operators on routes in and around the Corporate Area and St Catherine, a Sunday Gleaner probe has found.
Except for a list of mostly ignored rates published on the Transport Authority’s website, on the streets, nothing is constant. Fares vary from route to route, driver to driver, and sometimes increase up to 100 per cent after dark or when it rains.
In these parts, chartered hackney carriage operators hustle as route taxis and others even invent new routes to bolster their gains, leaving regulators flat-footed and frustrated.
“17 route [to Greater Portmore], only $300. 17 route, one and move! One small one and move!” bellowed a hackney carriage operator in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, last Thursday.
It did not matter that he was operating as a route taxi, contrary to his hackney carriage licence, nor that the route was not recognised by the Transport Authority.
It also did not matter that the Transport Authority has been assuming a softer “relationship building” approach instead of “draconian” sanctions to coerce operators to desist from rampantly overcharging customers islandwide.
“17 route! Move we a move! Only 300,” he repeated as passengers filed into the waiting motor car.
It was only 5 p.m. and Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses and its sub-franchise Coasters were still available to Portmore at fares between $100 and $150.
As the night nears, however, passengers will rush the doors of the rogue taxis and fares will reportedly increase to $400. Any time after 10 p.m., passengers are quick to note, that figure can go up to $500.
By law, fares for Coaster buses should be equal to the $100 charged by the JUTC or a maximum of $120. But last week, The Sunday Gleaner observed Coaster buses heading to Greater Portmore and Gregory Park charging $150 to use the toll road. Masked and unmasked passengers stuffed themselves inside – way beyond the bus’ capacity and in breach of COVID-19 containment protocols.
This was a flagrant disregard for JUTC’s regulations; and though the Transport Authority has issued 331 warnings to operators in the Kingston Metropolitan Transit Region from 45 covert operations since August, the practice continues unabated.
There seems little the JUTC can do about the extortion of its sub-franchise commuters. Unlike the Transport Authority, explained JUTC Corporate Communications Manager Cecil Thoms, the bus company does not police those operators.
“The JUTC ought to be charging $120, but our decision was at the time (2014) to roll it back to $100,” explained Thoms. “If it is that the sub-franchise operators are charging $120, it is fine because that is the gazetted fare increase.”
“However, if they are charging beyond that, it would be a case of overcharging, and, of course, would require the intervention of the Transport Authority, who are the regulators,” he offered.
Of the four routes in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR) and St Catherine on which The Sunday Gleaner undercover team travelled in the last two weeks, three had operators who were overcharging.
The Portmore Mall to Greater Portmore route was the only route on which operators charged the designated $140 on two trips.
On the Waltham Park Road to downtown Kingston route, for example – also a JUTC sub-franchise – operators charged this covert reporter $150 per trip on four trips. While on the Half-Way Tree to Maxfield Avenue route, the news team was charged $120 on two trips. The official fare is supposed to be $110.
Operators say these prices can increase to $150 after hours.
“Everywhere you turn, macka jook you. Times so hard and we still a get rob!” lamented one commuter.
“People have it rough and these taxi men don’t seem to understand that,” he stated, sharing that when he takes a taxi from the Spanish Town bus park or the square to Ensom City in St Catherine, he is charged anywhere from $170, $180 or $200 when the fare should be $150 or $160.
“That’s what we must pay. Not a red cent more. The authorities need to do something about this because poor people can’t take any more.”
Meanwhile, the official fare from the Portmore Mall to Westchester is $115, but operators charged this reporter $120 on four trips, with drivers confessing that the trip could cost up to $150, dependent on the time of night and area.
These route fees reportedly double if a customer requests a “turn-off”, which the Transport Authority last week described as legal and also as a contractual agreement between drivers and their customers.
According to the regulations, licensed taxi operators may pick up and set down passengers up to 500 metres off the prescribed route. However, operators shall not veer off their routes once they are within 1.5 kilometres of the town centre, and should strictly adhere to points of origin and destination on the main.
“So let’s use a scheme,” explained Carolyn Irving, research and statistics manager at the Transport Authority.
“We normally measure the distance from the transportation centre, for example, to the furthest point of the community. So when you have a passenger who might want an operator to drop them at their gate, once this journey or this agreement has been established between the driver and the passenger, that is now where the driver is allowed to charge an additional amount.”