Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | February 1, 2009
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Transport ministry braces for new players
Arthur Hall, Senior staff reporter

Taxi drivers in the Corporate Area.- Rudolph Brown/Chief Photographer

THE MINISTRY of Transport is bracing for an increase in the number of people going into the public-transportation business as more and more companies in the formal sector cut staff.

Already more than 1,000 Jamaicans have been sent home, with hundreds more now facing an uncertain future.

"If indeed the economics of the world impact us, and let's say someone in the bauxite industry is made redundant, the first thing one usually does is to buy a vehicle to earn a living," Transport Minister Mike Henry told reporters recently.

public transport

"That's an admirable attribute for one to have, but that has to be done under a structured format," Henry added, as he made it clear that the ministry would not be opposed to new operators entering the public-transport system.

"I'm not taking any big-stick approach. I'm already trying to legalise the illegal with an estimated 20,000 robots (illegal taxis) operating," the transport minister said.

According to Henry, he is already looking at plans to rationalise the public-transportation system, which will include colour-coding for taxis and buses with clearly defined terms of operation.

"There can't be two million taxis covering one main route because that would mean a fight for some passengers while other areas would not be served," Henry told The Sunday Gleaner. "In fact, I don't have any objection to a taxi stand beside a bus stop, but it must be planned, disciplined and orderly."

That is a concern shared by taxi operator Willard Costley who also expects an influx of new players into the system as more and more companies cut staff.

Costley has been operating in the public-transportation system since 1999 and has seen numerous cases where persons get "a fistful of dollars" and buy a car, which is placed on the road as a taxi.

no qualification

"This is one of the few industries where you can enter without any qualification. There is no job description, no need for training and no test to ensure that you are ready to carry passengers," Costley said.

"The industry is not properly regulated and if there is a flood of illegal vehicles operating, there will be mayhem," Costley added.

He said while there might be space for more registered public-passenger vehicles in the system, the process is such that legal operators are being squeezed while the illegal ones rake in millions of dollars.

"The Government has set the system where it suits persons to operate illegally, while those who follow the rules are hurt," Costley said.

A route taxi operator boards his cab in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew. With many more persons being made redundant, it is anticipated that there will be more route taxis on the road.- File

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