JaRistotle’s Jottings | Fix the taxi system
In a recent article by Nadine Wilson-Harris warning women about the dangers they face from men posing as taxi drivers (The Gleaner: February 18, 2018), it was reported that "more than 50 females have been raped and robbed over the last two years" by such imposters.
This repeated and increasing pattern of abductions by taxi drivers, of primarily young women, appears to be getting less than satisfactory attention from the police and the Government. The police, for their part, have to be playing catch-up, seeking out individuals and vehicles based on victims' reports. The more fundamental issue at the heart of this problem is the cockeyed reality of route, robot, illegal, and unregulated taxis and the hustling that has become endemic to this mode of public transport.
The route-taxi system is also a no-brainer. We have a government-owned bus company - the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) - that must utilise formally trained drivers and adhere to scheduled routes and defined stops that is competing with privately operated taxis that are not held to the same operating standards. Surely, this is contributory to the company's projected $7-billion loss for 2018-2019, having already racked up losses exceeding $3 billion for this financial year.
In responding to the problem, the police suggested that "unregulated taxis should not be used by commuters. If they have to take them, make sure they capture the licence plate number and send it to somebody so that somebody knows where they are and which car they are in." This is logical advice, but the average commuter has to take whatever taxi they can get whenever they can get it.
Government-approved public-service systems should have inbuilt mechanisms to protect the users of those systems. It should not be primarily incumbent on the consumer to be implementing these sorts of safeguards; the responsibility should belong to the approving authority. However, that said, individuals still have a common-sense responsibility to take precautions.
Despite having the constabulary and the Transport Authority to police the taxi operators, the sanctioning of offenders is meaningless. The taxi operators make calculated business decisions: competition is stiff, creative driving garners passengers, and tickets are operating expenses, assuming they are paid any at all.
Alleged complicity and complacency on the part of those responsible for regulating the industry is another issue. Think of the policewoman who was identified as the owner of the defective, uninsured, and unlicensed minibus that crashed in Llandovery, St Ann, in May 2016, killing five people.
The system needs fixing, plain and simple. In the first instance, taxis operating in an autonomous manner undermine accountability. Here is an opportunity for the Government to nationalise the system, disband privately owned taxis, and rid us of the associated dangers to public safety: avert or reduce the JUTC's $7-billion loss.
More immediately, we should move from the comical ticketing system to impounding vehicles that are so operated to endanger public safety and to actively targetting and permanently seizing vehicles that are illegally used as taxis. Hit them where it hurts - in their pockets.
We could also implement systems to facilitate individual and collective accountability. Every vehicle, driver, and owner should be registered with approved associations that are subject to collective safety and security standards. Sanctions for breaches should include permanent and publicised deregistration of offending vehicles, operators, and owners. Failure on the part of the associations to maintain standards should have dire implications for the respective association and its members.
Regardless of the option chosen, the medicine will be controversial and bitter. However, in the interest of public safety and security, the Government needs to act with alacrity. Lives matter.