Thu | Jun 20, 2024

Cabbies to extend protest despite modest impact

Taxi operators rally against demerit points system, other regulatory issues

Published:Tuesday | June 11, 2024 | 12:10 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter
Stranded commuters await Jamaica Urban Transit Company buses in downtown Kingston as taxi operators began what they said will be a week-long protest on Monday.
Stranded commuters await Jamaica Urban Transit Company buses in downtown Kingston as taxi operators began what they said will be a week-long protest on Monday.

Despite the “moderate” impact observed on Monday as hundreds of taxi operators across the island withdrew their services, citing grievances with the Island Traffic Authority’s (ITA) demerit points system and other regulatory issues, one sector leader has announced plans for the protest to persist for a week.

“I contacted the organisers and they told me that they will be going tomorrow again with the withdrawal of service. I believe they should continue,” Lorraine Oscar Finnikin, president of the All Voice Transportation Group, told The Gleaner yesterday.

Commuters across the island were left stranded on Monday as the transport operators objected to a move by the ITA to suspend the driver’s licences of those who have accumulated 10 demerit points as a result of traffic violations, as per the Road Traffic Act, which took effect in January 2023.

The taxi operators are advocating for amendments to the demerit system, calling for leniency on offences such as failure to wear seat belts and illegal parking. Additionally, they have raised concerns about what they deemed to be excessive fines, such as that for using a cell phone while operating a vehicle.

In Portland, drivers who ply the Port Antonio to Hector’s River and the Buff Bay to Port Antonio routes, with the exception of a few, parked their vehicles from as early as 6 a.m.

The disruption has not been limited to transportation alone, as several schools in Clarendon had to shift to virtual classes to accommodate affected students. Similar disruptions were observed in various regions, including St Mary, St Elizabeth, and Kingston and St Andrew.

Despite the withdrawal not being universally supported by taxi associations, including the Egerton Newman-led Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services, Finnikin asserts that all 275 members of his organisation participated in the protest.

Finnikin said plans for the protest action started two weeks ago, and he had initially discouraged it.

However, he said the failure of consultations with relevant authorities – including the ITA, the transport steering committee, the Transport Authority and the head of the police’s Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch – to obtain consensus, led to the necessity of such drastic action.

According to him, the transport operators’ concerns were brushed aside, and they were told to use the court system to address issues raised about sections of the Road Traffic Act.

“When we mentioned ... the fine and the demerit points for effective headlamp and tail light, [for] which they don’t give warning – we have no control over a bulb being blown – they were told that if they were servicing their vehicles, that wouldn’t happen. And then [another] response that hurt ... is that [were told that] we must remember that we are very indiscipline and we are operating illegally,” he said.

While noting the limited impact of the service withdrawal on the sector, Transport Minister Daryl Vaz urged the operators to “allow good sense to prevail”, saying that their concerns will be addressed in a meeting today.

However, Finnkin said the transport operators are wary of promises.

“Separate and apart from our confidence in the commitment of the transport minister, the sector on a whole is very [sceptical based on] ... the number of promises that were made before and were not fulfilled,” he told The Gleaner.

Vaz, in the meantime, has described the action as premature and unnecessary. He also suggested that the protests were politically motivated.

“For those who are using it for political reasons, I ask you to desist, especially in relation to the roadblocks that have been mounted using trees and stones and other things to interrupt the flow of ordinary law-abiding citizens. It is totally unnecessary, and I call on you to desist and allow the process of communication, collaboration, and consensus, which is how I operate, to continue and we will get the desired results” he said.

The transport minister also stressed the importance of dialogue to address systemic issues in the sector.

He noted that balancing the need for law and order on the roads with the concerns of operators is crucial to mitigating the negative impacts of any prolonged withdrawal of service.

“I am making an appeal to all those drivers who are taking part, who are losing income and causing great inconvenience to the commuters, to get back on the job and allow the process to ... [work],” he said.