- With one driver killed and another missing, concerns mount over safety of ridesharing app - Police urge commuters to be vigilant - Transport Authority says inDrive drivers must be licensed PPV operators
“When mi a go nowhere mi nuh go wid fear.” Those were Devroy Peart’s last words to his older brother Phillip Peart a little over a month ago as he tried to alleviate Phillip’s unease about his new vocation as a driver with multinational ridesharing...
“When mi a go nowhere mi nuh go wid fear.” Those were Devroy Peart’s last words to his older brother Phillip Peart a little over a month ago as he tried to alleviate Phillip’s unease about his new vocation as a driver with multinational ridesharing company inDrive.
A week later, Devroy was shot and killed on Upper King Street in the vicinity of Heroes Circle in Kingston after making a late-night pick-up on March 23. The two female passengers in his vehicle were also killed.
The 27-year-old data entry clerk at the University Hospital of the West Indies was buried at around 2:00 p.m. on Mother’s Day.
Earlier that same day, Leroy Page, a final-year medical student at the University of the West Indies, who also uses the inDrive app to provide taxi service, was reported missing.
His relatives in Dempshire Pen, St Catherine, said he was last heard from at 12:48 a.m. on May 14. His vehicle was later found in the Padmore area of Red Hills in St Andrew.
The police are investigating both incidents.
These two consecutive and highly publicised incidents involving inDrive drivers have raised concerns about the security risks of using the California-based ridesharing app, whose use has been growing in urban areas.
And while Head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Corporate Communications Unit, Senior Superintendent of Police Stephanie Lindsay, said the police have no crime data specific to users of the inDrive app, she is cautioning the motoring public to exercise alertness at all times when utilising any form of public transportation.
“Try at all times to ascertain the identity and legitimacy of the operators. And persons should always follow their instincts,” she told The Sunday Glea ner.
HOW iNDRIVE WORKS
The inDrive app, which is available in 47 countries, allows anyone with a car to provide taxi services. Users simply download the app on to their smartphones then upload basic information about themselves - a photo, a police certificate, driver’s licence, national ID or passport - and their vehicle information, which includes photos, insurance, and visible licence number.
Commuters who use the app are also required to upload a photo of themselves and provide basic information.
inDrive follows a price-setting model in which it is the passengers who set the fare for their journey. It then takes a five-10 per cent commission of this from drivers. Commuters say this mode of transportation costs far less than regular taxi service.
Phillip said his brother had been using inDrive for about two months to earn extra money to pay off outstanding loans. This, he said, was against his advice as he had always had trepidation about the taxi business.
“I have concerns from it have to do with taxi work. You actually carry strangers. You nuh know dem, yuh nuh know dem motive,” he shared with The Sunday Gleaner. “Mi tell him when yuh see certain time come, come off the road.”
Page’s relatives said he had been using the app for a similar time period, but they were unaware until they got news that he was missing.
“If anybody did know, di whole a wi wudda tell him seh nuh dweet because taxi man always have issue outta road wid people, and stuff like that,” a relative who requested anonymity, told The Sunday Gleaner.
“inDrive a fi everybody, so dem nah go know if you a bad somebody, or whatever. Mi have friends weh dweet and dem seh dem only picking up ladies, but yuh picking up ladies same way, and ladies set yuh up same way ‘cause Jamaica very corrupt.”
The relative is still holding out hope that 26-year-old Page, who is described as quiet and entrepreneurial, will be found alive. However, the family member laments that their situation is made even more frustrating by what she describes as inDrive’s nonchalant attitude towards the case.
“Nothing wi cya get from dem (inDrive), and di last time wi speak to dem and ask dem if dem wah wi hand over the conversation to the police officer, dem a guh seh dem don’t wish to speak to the police officer,” she said.
“Dem (inDrive) doh care,” the relative vented.
However, telling The Sunday Gleaner that it “firmly rejects and opposes any acts of violence” and that it “handles incidents with absolute seriousness”, inDrive said its team had been monitoring the missing person report filed for its driver Leroy Page.
“We contacted the family members of the missing person to reiterate our empathy and share our official collaboration process. We are fully committed to working together with the corresponding local government and police authorities,” inDrive said in a written response to Sunday Gleaner queries. “We will continue to monitor the situation, and update the public if and when there is more information to disclose.”
inDrive did not respond to this newspaper’s queries about how many Jamaican drivers are registered on its app as well as how it came to be operating in the country.
NO PERMISSION GIVEN
Corporate Communications Manager at the Transport Authority (TA) Merdina Callum told The Sunday Gleaner that inDrive did not seek the regulator’s permission to enter the Jamaican market.
She also outlined that there are no regulations to govern how ridesharing apps operate in Jamaica, and, therefore, they are subjected to the laws that apply to all Public Passenger Vehicles (PPV).
Callum stated that drivers who use the inDrive app to offer taxi services need a PPV licence to do so as outlined under Section 13 of the Transport Authority Act.
However, she said, “There is no prohibition to a licensed public passenger vehicle operator being contracted to inDrive or any other taxi company once they adhere to the licensing requirement as stated in the Road Traffic Act.”
Section 61 (1) of the act states that no person shall use or cause or permit a motor vehicle to be used on any public road as a PPV unless he is the holder of a valid PPV road licence. But Subsection 6 allows for the minister of transport to permit other vehicles to be used as PPVs if the transport services outside the Corporate Area are inadequate to meet the needs of the public on any special occasion.
‘BAN THESE APPS’
Egeton Newman said the lack of regulations is the major issue he has with international ridesharing companies operating on the island.
The president of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS) told The Sunday Gleaner that he was vexed about how easy it was for people to offer taxi services using these apps as opposed to the many hurdles “legitimate” taxi operators have to overcome.
“Nobody knows who owns inDrive, and TA has nothing on their books about inDrive and why are they here. When the local operator finds $2 million to buy a car, he has to do a myriad of things to get his licence. Each taxi driver must have a badge. His car must be registered through the TA and issued a red-plate license,” he said.
Declaring that this cannot continue, Newman wants the newly minted minister of transport Daryl Vaz to make banning these apps his “first order of business”.
“They need to be banned immediately until they can go through the formal channel as any other taxi or bus operators in this country. It cannot be allowed to continue,” he said.
Two years ago, ridesharing app Uber was launched in Kingston, St Andrew, and St Catherine amid claims that its operation circumvented Jamaican law.
Newman argued that the use of these apps poses a greater risk to the public, especially because of limited accessibility to their owners.
“If one of my members picks you up and something happens, I want to share the blame because my operator is a registered red-plate operator. But when a private person is doing that and they call that person a taxi operator, how yuh think I feel?” he fumed.
But he acknowledged that there are also risks for “legitimate” taxi operators. Newman said that since the start of the year, 34 taxi operators were killed on the job. Fifty-seven operators were killed last year and 36 in 2021.
“They were not going to a party and get killed. They were robbed, killed, and their vehicle taken away. When it come on the news one time, a just nine-minute wonder, news finish and it done. Nothing wi can get from the police, no follow-up,” he charged.
Additionally, Newman said that approximately eight taxi operators have been reported missing since this year.
It is incidents like what happened to Peart and Page that are causing John*, a taxi operator of 10 years who has been using the inDrive app for the last year, to reconsider his profession. He said many people use the app as it is cheaper and gives them bargaining power; however, he often deals with a lot of intimidation from passengers who want to renegotiate at the end of their ride.
“When yuh pick up some people from the ghetto, some young men, dem want to bad yuh up, and tings like dat. Dem doh wanna pay yuh wah di app seh. Dem wah pay wah dem wanna pay,” he said.
And although he said the app provides an emergency button to summon the police in instances like these, he does not believe it is practical.
But his colleague, Richard, a 37-year-old soldier who has been using the app for almost three months, believes that his strategy will help him to continue operating.
“It’s very rough. You just gotta be cautious who you choose to drive with and not go to certain places. I don’t go to certain places. I don’t choose certain people to drive, and if I go somewhere and it looks too suspicious, I’m just gonna leave. Safety comes first,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.