I have the good fortune, or misfortune, if you prefer, of having spent much of my life living outside Jamaica. So, as my friend/attorney, Clive Williams said when we first met, “I can see that you run up to the wicket differently.” I do not disagree that I approach many local issues from a different angle/viewpoint. I have also had the benefit of living in or working in lots of different places, so many things I see in Jamaica can be put into a geographical or socioeconomic context that reflects that we are more similar than different, fundamentally, but at different points in our historical progress.
Take, for example, our traffic woes with illegal taxis and the bad driving habits of public service vehicles, in general. I know and have learned (because I studied urban planning) that ‘pirate behaviour on roads is a common feature of many urban developments. In the UK, during the period from the mid-1850s to World War 2, pirate buses created various forms of mayhem on London’s road, first with fare scams, then with ‘racing’ and ‘dangerous’ driving (as many ex-soldiers sought to find work and landed as bus owners in a poorly regulated environment):
‘After the first world war, the situation got worse. There was a shortage of buses (many had been requisitioned during the war) and many ex-servicemen took advantage of the absence of any sensible licensing procedure to set up their own bus services.
By 1924, London’s bus operations had become completely chaotic.
Pirate buses would race their General counterparts, terrifying passengers; take shortcuts to get to the busiest areas for trade; switch between routes to find the best passenger traffic.
Fines for speeding were increasingly common; there were even some more serious incidents of sabotage.’
Does that racing, terrifying passengers, taking shortcuts, totally chaotic, etc ring a bell with what we often see on Jamaican roads, though our passengers often seem sanguine?
For those who have watched the British TV series, Peaky Blinders, you can see the world of post-First Word War Britain up-close and dangerous, as ruthless ex-servicemen turned into gangsters.
The necessary conditions may be somewhat different in Jamaica, but at their base they include similar features to the 1920s UK: a general lack of employment opportunities for able young men, but also a world where public transport is in great demand and the supply is woefully inadequate: we know that JUTC alone cannot meet the needs of the Corporate Area and rural bus services are notable by their absence. Add to that a poor system of regulation and enforcement and you have all you need for mayhem.
None of that excuses what happens in Jamaica, but it means that we wont see change until the basic conditions change, plus we have a police force that is more complicit in its inability or unwillingness to enforce and a general approach by government that it’s easier to offer amnesties, periodically, than to see fines paid regularly. I’ve written before about what those perverse incentives must lead to: Who in their right mid would pay fines when due?
So, as the saying goes: History is prologue.
The Road Traffic Act that is due to go through Parliament may offer some solutions, but I would venture to guess that on the matters of enforcement it is silent, because the powers are there already, but not used fully. We also have the well-known but also untouched problem of members of our security forces being active participants in the business of running taxis and minibuses. If ever you wanted to see an enforcement ‘conflict of interest’ you’d be hard pressed to better that. Some argue for higher fines, but that’s pointless when current/lower fines aren’t being paid on time, or ignored by owners who are themselves implicated fully in both the breaking and keeping of laws.