New taxes driving me insane
By Robert Lalah
Last week's revelation that I'll have to fork over more money to the Government for vehicle fitness and registration has made my daily journey to and from work since then a lot more distressing. And all the things you experience when driving on Jamaican roads - you know, the sudden stops taxi and bus drivers make, wayward pedestrians and erratic cyclists - seem just a tad more offputting than normal. And that's a feat.
This can't be good for road rage. Think about it. You're already driving around contemplating all the money you paid (or are still paying) for the vehicle (including a hefty portion in taxes), the tax on already overpriced petrol, tax on insurance premiums, and burdensome maintenance costs. Add to this the news that you'll have to pay more for a little coloured sticker and the privilege of waiting hours to have an inspector abuse your vehicle, and we have all the makings of a severe nervous breakdown.
Now I was already concerned about the mental health of many of my fellow road users (passive-aggressive disorder and a pathological aversion to indicators, among my main observations). But now I have every reason to be downright worried.
A THEATRE OF HOSTILITY
Even before this latest tax hike, action on Jamaican roadways during peak hours played out like some kind of morbid theatre of hostility and aggression. Every weekday morning and evening, the same cast of characters assemble, each assigned their own parts and all apparently eager to outdo their performance of the previous day. There's the steely-faced woman driver whose role it is to keep all vehicles from cutting in front of her. This is to be done at all costs, without any noticeable change in expression and certainly without looking the other driver in the eye.
There's also the prowling taxi driver. He's constantly on the hunt for potential passengers. He keeps one hand on the steering wheel (close to the horn) and the other he sticks out the window. At the first sign of any human on the sidewalk, he toots the horn and points a finger in the air. From what I can tell, this pointing action is some sort of clever hunting ritual designed to indicate to the potential passenger that transportation is a possibility. The prowling taxi driver's tragic flaw is his propensity to be less than considerate in his manoeuvring of the vehicle. He and his sidekick, the antagonistic Coaster bus driver, are the villains of the plot. It's a role they relish and are good at.
Another character in this spectacle that is Jamaican traffic is the nonchalant senior citizen. He goes about his merry way, listening to groovy tunes on the radio, without a care in the world. City street or six-lane highway, it doesn't matter, his speed remains a constant 40km per hour. Tooting horns and shouting obscenities are a waste of time. This fellow moves at his own pace. There is little evidence he even realises there's anyone else on the road.
AGITATED TOOTER, supporting cast
Then, of course, there's the agitated tooter who is always in a bad mood. He's annoyed by anything and everything and just wants everyone to get out of his way. He's the one tooting the horn the second the traffic lights turn green. He shouts at the nonchalant senior citizen, curses the steely-faced woman driver, and makes obscene gestures with his fingers every time he comes across the prowling taxi driver.
All these players mentioned are propped up by a supporting cast which includes the bewildered pedestrian, the texting teenager, the zigzagging motorcyclist and the timid learner. Snacks are provided by an ensemble of peanut and banana chips vendors.
Now while this set-up is clearly not ideal, it's what I'm accustomed to. It's the evil I know. My worry is that with this latest tax hike, everyone will want to play the role of the agitated tooter. Even the nonchalant senior citizen will want in on the action. Nobody will care to do anything else. Can you imagine what that would be like? It's a recipe for anarchy, if you ask me.
So I hope that at some point, some consideration will be made for the hard-working characters of this long-running series. It's been a while since they've received any good news. Encouragement sweetens labour. Taxes just tick people off.