Don't take your hands off the wheel, Minister Montague

Friday, June 01, 2018

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Transport Minister Robert Montague is correct in saying that the public passenger vehicle system needs overhauling. However, we wonder if some of the proposals he outlined in his contribution to the annual sectoral debate in Parliament on Wednesday will achieve that ideal.

According to Minister Montague, the Government wants to open all public transport routes in the island to anyone who wishes to be licensed as a public passenger vehicle operator.

The Government, he explained, “believes in the power of the market”, and holds the view that the market must be allowed to determine the saturation point.

While we have no argument with that position, the Government, we suggest, should think carefully about how it will bring order to a system that is already straining under the weight of rampant indiscipline and, in many instances, sheer criminality.

Mr Montague argues that what now obtains is that the Transport Authority has a technocrat in Kingston determine how many taxis and buses may be on a route, or to determine the route, itself.

“They claim that many routes cannot take any more taxis because enough buses and taxis are on it. Yet, you see people standing and waiting for hours, and many illegal taxis operating because they cannot get licences,” Minister Montague said.

The question, therefore, is why are the authorities allowing illegal taxis to be operating? That, we believe, is the issue that Minister Montague, with the help of the police, should be addressing.

The minister should be careful that his proposals don't drag Jamaica back to the chaotic days of the 1980s when Jamaicans were subjected to a ramshackle public transportation system that was devoid of order. That, we recall, was the era of the minibus, when commuters were packed into vehicles like sardines and students were refused entry to those vehicles by growls of “No shoolas!” by unkempt conductors who also took pleasure in riding on the door steps of the vehicles, their bodies protruding.

It took a lot of effort on the part of the Government to bring some amount of order to the system with the introduction of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company. In fact, we remember very well the howls of protest by many individuals who accused the Government of “fighting against the small man”.

The problem, though, is that no political Administration has had the stones to stare down the proponents of disorder and indiscipline, because that constituency represents a large bloc of votes to politicians.

Therefore, what we have had is some tweaking of the system here and there to accommodate the lawless, resulting in the madness we now see on our streets daily, particularly from taxi, minibus and Coaster bus drivers.

Some of Minister Montague's proposals, we admit, are worthy of discussion and implementation. However, we reiterate that he and the Government must be careful that they do not pull the country back to the days when public transport was being likened to the horrendous Middle Passage for slave ships.

We hope not, but this feels like Mr Montague is taking his hands off the steering wheel and that the forces of disorder have won the day.

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