On Monday, the Ministry of Transport and the Island Traffic Authority celebrated with glee the fact that the majority of taxi drivers across the island turned out for work clad in what is being described as ‘uniform’ – plain white shirt and black trousers.
For the most part, many of the drivers attired themselves well and looked sharp. On the other hand, there were those who turned out in what looked like the white ‘undershirt’ they slept in the previous night, flip flops afoot and grabber-laden weed tucked away in the corner of their mouths.
New uniform and all, the 6-9 am and 4-7 pm still seemed to be the most dangerous time for regular drivers as the taxi drivers continued to load their cars at traffic lights, overload their cars, drive without seat belts engaged, drive under the influence of the combination of a “rum and boom special” and a spliff.
They seemed to have been absolutely ignoring the presence of the police and save for the odd instance when the police seized the opportunity to provide the friendly wrecking companies with a chance to lift a car, it was a wasted attempt to bring the chaos on the roads under control.
The Ministry of Transport just does not get it! What we have on the roads is social mayhem…anarchy even.
Regular taxpaying road users are now scared of traversing the roads at peak times because of the marauding drivers of taxis and motorcycles who do not obey the rules of the roads and see their vehicles as weapons of intimidation, that they spear at other road users like bullets.
The Public Safety and Transport Enforcement Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary must be frustrated and disillusioned. They have been given flashy new bikes to park at intersections and then given instructions to simply maintain a presence. The strategy is not working!
Even if you had a policeman on every corner, it still would not work. Why? These policemen may issue tickets to taxi drivers and other motorists – these tickets go unpaid and the drivers accumulate hundreds and are still allowed to operate on the roads.
The only intervention that will make a difference is the introduction and use of electronic surveillance and technology driven enforcement.
All of the central points that taxis converge and the major thoroughfares that they traverse should be under constant surveillance. They should be monitored and every infringement logged. The process would then move to the next stage of applying sanctions from the intelligence gathered.
But again, all of this will be useless if the government doesn’t move apace to introduce the new Road Traffic Act. That legislation will be a key tool in the social re-engineering project that the country so desperately needs.
When a taxi driver knows that an infringement will cause him to incur an entire day’s earnings in fines, he would be forced financially to play by the rules – load in assigned places, drive in assigned lanes, display civil behaviour and operate as all decent citizens are expected to do.
At this time, we have almost lost it. But with some swift and committed action, ground can be reclaimed.
The Ministry of Transport should seek to implement a system akin to a State of Emergency specifically to take back control of the country’s roads. Failing this, there will be more death, despair and wailing as families continue to lose their loved ones as casualties of the lawlessness and hooliganism that currently pervade our public transport spaces.
By Alphanso Gomez