Cellphones in the dark: Does the Transport Authority operate in rural Jamaica?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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The dire warning to motorists against the use of snow (winter) tyres on Jamaican roads, against news of a 37 per cent increase in road fatalities since the start of the year, is perhaps an indication that the Transport Ministry is being proactive.

But it is also a stark reminder of the constant danger that lurks on Jamaican roads and the extent of the work still needed to be done by the ministry, and the Transport Authority (TA) to ensure safer and more comfortable public transportation.

We shudder to think what could have happened, based on a report this newspaper received just yesterday, of a jam-packed bus going downhill just before dawn, with cellphone lights replacing the malfunctioning headlights in dark rural St Thomas.

The report stated that the bus continued to pick up commuters along the route from Whitehall to Kingston, despite having no headlights and no horn. The driver and a passenger allegedly used their cellphones to light the way along the precipitous road.

At one point when that could no longer work, a motorist was asked to 'pilot' the bus to Morant Bay, where a second motorist took over for the rest of the journey to Kingston.

According to some passengers who said their “heart was in their mouth the whole time”, a tragedy of huge proportions could have befallen the bus with just one wrong turn taking the vehicle over the nearby precipice.

Jamaicans could have awoken to the horrific news of another road crash claiming the lives of so many people on board, adding to the 90 people who have died in 81 road crashes since the start of the year, according to a Road Safety Unit report yesterday.

The unit said passengers of public transportation represented 21 per cent of the fatalities.

It is no secret that public transportation in rural areas frequently operates on a wing and prayer. The people on that hapless bus in St Thomas do not wish to put their lives in such obvious danger but it is often the case that they have no alternative.

We wonder if the Transport Authority or any authority at all is monitoring what passes for public transportation in the vast majority of rural areas. We could be wrong but the TA appears to be overwhelmed by the illegal taxis and minibuses in the urban centres and so largely ignore the rural parts.

We like the robustness with which the Transport Ministry is approaching the matter of the snow tyres. It has cautioned that under no circumstance should vehicles fitted with winter tyres be certified fit for the Jamaican roadways.

Motorists should heed the warnings which say that winter tyres are designed for cold temperatures and winter conditions, and once the temperature rises, it will be difficult for drivers to maintain control over their vehicles on hot asphalt or when it rains.

“The risks of overinflating and blowouts are much higher… The Transport Ministry is also urging dealers to exercise a moral responsibility to not sell unsuspecting consumers vehicles with snow tyres. Certificates of fitness will not be issued for vehicles with these tyres,” the ministry added.

The hard-working Mr Robert Montague might wish to tell us what he plans for rural transportation.

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