Robbing the toll

Motorists avoid fees, but authorities clamping down on illegal practice

BY SHANICA BLAIR
Online reporter
blairs@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

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A total of 463 instances of toll avoidance was recorded at the Portmore Toll Plaza last year, according to police data.

However, the practice of unruly motorists tailgating other vehicles through toll booths to avoid paying decreased to 49 at the Portmore and May Pen plazas combined, between January 1 and April 30 this year, the police said, attributing the improvement to increased vigilance by the authorities.

Last year's breaches were committed by 94 motorists, while 25 drivers are responsible for the 49 recorded so far this year.

Superintendent of Police Preston Wray of the Ferry Highway Patrol told the Jamaica Observer that recently two motorists, who sought to avoid paying at the Portmore and May Pen toll plazas, were arrested and placed before the courts. One of them, he said, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a fine of $10,000 or 20 days' imprisonment. The other matter is still pending.

Wray also said that six toll evaders appeared in the St Catherine Parish Court in March this year. One pleaded guilty and was slapped with a fine of $5,000 for seven offences, or 30 days' imprisonment at hard labour. One did not appear and a bench warrant was issued for her arrest.

The other four, he said, pleaded not guilty and were scheduled to reappear in court.

While the Jamaican Infrastructure Operator, which operates the Highway 2000 East-West network, declined to discuss the impact that toll avoidance is having on its revenue, the company said it works closely with the police to stem the practice as it poses risks to customers and staff.

As such, the company has a zero-tolerance policy to deal with the illegal act.

That, though, appears to be of little concern to one Toyota Coaster bus driver with whom this reporter travelled recently.

The driver, who was plying the Half-Way-Tree to Portmore route, was ticketed for speeding on the Newlands main road in Portmore.

He returned to the bus in fit of rage, saying that he would not be paying the fine out of his pocket, especially on a Friday evening when he was supposed to be getting paid.

“Mi know from heaven to earth seh da bus ya not even did a do 100,” he said angrily, “an yuh give mi ticket fi $7,500? Mi nah pay it. Mi a rob di toll fi pay dat!”

Asked to elaborate on his vow to rob the toll the driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “A regular mi dweet, not just when police ticket mi. Mi jus run the tag lane an' a it dat.”

“Almost every driva do it,” he added, but quickly stated that there are “one and two who nuh too do it”.

Asked whether he had any concerns that his action would risk the safety of his passengers and the bus, he replied: “The barrier a plastic, ennuh, so nothing nah happen. But some driva get ketch already and police find dem an ticket dem.”

When the Observer asked if he avoided paying the toll on this trip he said: “So yuh nuh see when mi run it awhile ago?”

He then explained that most passengers will not realise when it is being done because it happens really quickly.

“When one vehicle pass through, the barrier tek bout three seconds fi go dung. So you haffi move quick quick when yu reach the toll and see one vehicle and go tek da lane deh,” he explained.

At that point, he raised the deeper and contentious issue of the toll cost.

“The toll road expensive. If wi fi pay every time wi go through it, wi no lef wid nothing,” he said explaining that each bus makes roughly 10 round trips on any given day and each time a bus similar in size to the Coaster passes through the toll the cost is $670.

“If wi pay $13,400 a day wi no lef back wid nothing, daughta,” he said.

“Rememba seh mi haffi get pay, conductor haffi get pay, boss haffi get fi him own, plus gas haffi buy,” he added.

“Pon top a dat wi have road licence, insurance and wi haffi give JUTC (Jamaica Urban Transit Company) money because wi sign contract wid them,” he said.

“The Government tief. Everything weh wi haffi do cost money and them expensive. Then you have the police dem hide out a every corner ready fi ticket wi. It set a way, daughta, so wi haffi go roun the ting fi have back a likkle change,” he said.

He, however, presented a solution to the problem, calling on the toll operators to create a special rate for bus operators to alleviate some of the cost.

“Hear weh mi a say. Create a likkle package fi wi and allow wi fi use the tag lane exclusively, like the JUTC bus dem,” he said.

This, he argued, might help them to make trips faster instead of having to join the long lines in the regular lanes when they are out of funds to use the tag lane.

“The toll ram a morning time and evening, so if them do that it woulda nice,” the bus driver said.

He reasoned that this package might not stop all drivers from robbing the toll, but “if dem bring it dung to all $500 flat fi each trip, nuff a wi will work with that”.

Superintendent Wray, in the meantime, said that since 2015, a special team has been assigned to deal with the problem of toll evasion.

He said that three cameras installed in the lanes constantly record all activities. The strategy has reaped some success as, according to Wray, some offenders have since gone to the Portmore Toll Plaza and made restitution.

He said that toll evasion is not unique to the East-West toll road as it also happens on the North-South leg of Highway 2000, but to a lesser extent. Neither is it limited to public-passenger vehicles.

He cautioned motorists engaged in what he described as a “very dangerous practice” to desist, saying that it poses great risk to themselves, passengers and other motorists.

“Persons who continue to commit this offence will be vigorously pursued and brought to book,” Wray warned.

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