Thu | Feb 20, 2020

Downtown defiant - Bus, taxi operators play cat and mouse with cops as lawmen look to clean up city

Published:Sunday | January 26, 2020 | 12:32 AM

Head of Area Four, Assistant Commissioner of Police Devon Watkiss, says cops have implemented measures to bolster law and order in the major commercial areas of the Corporate Area. However, downtown Kingston remains a challenge.

According to Watkiss, since January, tighter reins have been placed on vendors, ‘loader men’ and Coaster bus operators in sections of Half-Way Tree and Papine in St Andrew, where they block roadways as they are soliciting customers and commuters.

Downtown Kingston, however, remains a stifling mixture of unruly vendors, robot taxis and congested roadways, and Watkiss said the police have been working with the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) with hopes of speeding up the process.

“Half-Way Tree was very congested and we have intervened in a direct way, and Half-Way Tree is a place now that we can finally find places to walk. It is the same thing with Papine,” said Watkiss during an interview with The Sunday Gleaner last week.

“We have cleaned there (Papine) and have put some order. You will now see taxis on a daily basis lining up in an orderly manner. Some will deviate but then they are quickly put back in line. We are also doing some of that in Cross Roads,” continued the senior policeman.

“We have been met with a little resistance downtown but we continue to remove the eyesores and address the concerns. We will be working with the municipality to quietly restore some order to the city,” he explained, noting that disorder breeds criminality, especially in congested areas.

He said efforts were being made to resolve how vendors are treated “as part of the reality of the municipality” with regard to how they are regulated to observe public decency while at the same time providing themselves with an opportunity to make a living.

“Some people have vending authorisations and we are trying to recalibrate those with the municipality.”

Last week, the chaos downtown was evident around the St William Grant Park where at North, South and West parades, taxi operators engage in a game of cat and mouse with policemen daily.

At one end, taxi operators plying the Mona/Papine route, on the commands of loader men, attempted to outrun patrolling cops last week. At another end, taxi operators and vendors caused gridlock that stretched almost the full length of West Queen Street. Sidewalks on Orange and Beckford streets have been taken over by shoppers.

At another end of St William Grant Park, one Rollington Town taxi operator told The Sunday Gleaner that he and colleagues simply sit and rest during the periods that policemen, particularly bicycle patrols, are active in the space. He said he has been operating taxis for two decades.

“We have to watch dem (police) ’cause we don’t have anywhere else to park. Is here so the people dem come so we have to find them,” he said, as one frustrated truck driver honked repeatedly for a taxi operator to acknowledge a green light at an intersection of upper King Street.

Watkiss said that since the start of the year the police have removed more than a dozen truckloads of rubble, inclusive of stalls, which were causing congestions and eyesores in sections of the Corporate Area.

In the meantime, he said the police, and other agencies, have also been removing stray dogs and cats from the space. These often cause hindrances and harm to pedestrians, he argued.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com