Two Jamaicas?

One thing you should learn early in your life is that the words of politicians are to be taken, at best, with a grain of salt, and probably a good bushel. If anything says has a grain of truth, chances are it’s been warped in some way of other. So, why am I going off on them today? Well…

Over the weekend, we had one of those singular apparent clashes of culture that one often doesn’t script because they are too painful in their truthfulness. Yet, happenstance throws these things up for us to gasp and wonder.

Carnival had captured the city of Kingston for several days and before the Road Marches on Sunday last many neighbourhoods had been graced with the loud noise of parties (mainly Soca, but not exclusively, based on what I heard at 1am) into the wee hours of several nights. I do not know who or how often people complained about those parties and their noise. I don’t know if they had the requisite permits, etc. However, on the evening of the Road Marches a well-known regular dancehall event was closed down, patrons pepper-sprayed and proprietor arrested…apparently, for noise and permit issues. Well, in steps the politician. 

Our Minister of Culture etc., Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, lamented the arrest and is quoted as saying: “…it sends the wrong message that there are two Jamaicas…”

My question is this. Where else have we seen these ‘two Jamaicas’ and how often do we see them sending the ‘wrong message’ yet simply let the time pass without the need for comment, from politicians in general or Cabinet Ministers, in particular? 

As I walked this morning, I just totted up some glaringly obviously examples of the ‘two Jamaicas’ and the ‘wrong messages’. The list is not exhaustive and feel free to add to it, at your leisure. Here goes!

  • Uptown-Downtown
  • Kingston-Country
  • Prominent high schools-Other high schools
  • Calabar-Rest of Boys’ Champs
  • Boys’ Champs-Girls’ Champs
  • Usain Bolt-Other Jamaican mortals
  • Babsy Grange-Lisa Hanna
  • Dancehall-Soca
  • Toll-road users-Other motorists
  • Gated communities-Other communities
  • Defendants with high-profile lawyers-Other defendants
  • Adidja Palmer-Other prison inmates
  • SUV drivers-‘Deportee’ drivers
  • Licensed drivers-Taximen
  • Car owners-JUTC riders
  • Jamaican culture lovers-Lovers of anything foreign

Is my point clear? I hope so.

So, my follow-up question is whether these other ‘two Jamaicas’ are important or not, and are we going to see measures taken quickly to address these divisions.

    Robot taxis: more grey than checkered life

    Jamaica has a poor record in providing facilities for those with disabilities. For that reason, I am wondering how we can help those who have vision problems to see better.

    Jamaica has a form of unauthorized taxis, called ‘robots’, locally. Their discerning feature is that they carry fare-paying passengers, without the requisite registrations, including a highly visible red license plate. They are also often easy to see (if you are not visually impaired) as their drivers often hang a hand out of the window with a wad of bills (fares taken) or pointing in the general direction they are headed. At various points along roads, usually at well-known stopping points for passengers, i.e. at a corner, these cars can be seen waiting or loading passengers and their wares. But, clearly, they are not as visible as I think. The police do not seem to notice them, so they are rarely stopped from doing their business. That’s, actually, not a bad thing for the Jamaican travelling public. It’s clear that the demand for public transport is excessive. In the Kingston corporate area, where there is a government-owned bus service, buses are often jammed packed, especially during rush hours. Registered taxis are also often full, and they operate as ride sharing vehicles, not for single riders. Robots fill a gap in terms of the overall demand, but also in tailoring rides to those who do not want to share. Jamaica does not have Uber, but we have some ‘on demand’ taxi services. Robots also eat into that business, but that too is to the benefit of the traveler. Example.

    My car has a leaking transmission and is ‘on vacation’ at the service station. (In somewhat typical Jamaican fashion, I had been asked if I was going to take it home, even though the service provider did not advise that I drive the car 🙂 ) Fortunately, my transport needs are not many–I’m a ‘taxi service’ for my teenager during the weekday afternoons, mainly. I love it! I also have some needs to visit my father mid-island, and I need to get to golf courses to practise and play. With my car in dock, I was fortunate that my daughter had just started her spring break, so my ‘taxi’ duties were done. But, my other needs remained.

    At the weekend, my wife had told me to “take a taxi” when I needed to make a 6.30 start time in a golf tournament. I got the number of a registered taxi and he picked me up at 5.30 and I was at the golf course in plenty of time. I thought the fare a bit steep, but beggars can’t be choosers. Yesterday, I needed to make another appointment. I called the Saturday taxi man again; no reply, after 3 attempts and some voice messages. My housekeeper gave me another number and I called it; within seconds I had arranged my ride for 1.15. At 1.10 a car arrived at my house and I went to get in. It had no taxi markings and no red plates. “Oh, you’re a robot?” I asked. Not really, the driver told me: “I don’t run up and down looking for passengers; I give people rides from the supermarket and such.” I thought about the distinctions. He got a call as I got in; it was his daughter: “Mummy’s pressure’s high and I just took her to the doctor. I’ll reach you soon.” He explained that his wife was both diabetic and suffering from high blood pressure; she’d had problems at the weekend needed medicine, and maybe a reaction to that her pressure had shot up. He said he’d get his daughter from the university, once he’d dropped me at my destination. We chatted on the way there. He was from a district close to my father’s original area. I got to my destination in good time, and took the driver’s phone number in case I needed a ride home and he was free. I wished him and his family well.

    As it was, I got a ride home with one of the people with whom I had had to work. On the way home, she needed gas and was searching for cash. I offered to pay. She refused. I pondered the difference between my paying for gas, for a ride offered by a friend, and the fare charged by the taxi driver who’d taken me earlier. I could easily categorize each driver as someone ‘doing a favour’ to an acquaintance of a ride in their vehicle. It looked more grey than black and white. The whole realm of ride sharing is that way, if money gets involved. I didn’t make any judgements.

    One man, eking out a living. Wife sick. Daughter at university. Life to live. Futures to protect.

    Running a taxi service comes with obligations and usually has insurance and other features to protect riders, such as verification of drivers and their records. Registration of the activity should be with those features in place…but are they always? If a friend passes me on the road and offers me a ride, do I stop to check that his/her insurance is fully in order or that he/she has no traffic violations outstanding? Never, is quite likely. Take a risk? We do it all the time.

    The Transport Minister is going to expand taxi routes, I read this morning, and open up another 2500 licences.

    The taxi industry in Jamaica is not pure. It’s known to have many owners who are police officers. That partly explains some of the ‘blindness’.

    If we had Uber or its equivalent, we’d have legitimized our ‘robots’. Many people (other than registered taxi businesses) think ride-sharing services like Uber are the best thing since sliced Easter bun. Funny place, the world.