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'ph' taxis filling public transportation void
In order to place the matter of the “PH” taxis in its proper perspective, it is necessary to review briefly the history of the development of the transportation system in this country over the past 50 years or thereabouts. The “PH” phenomenon is but the latest manifestation of the consequence of the continuing failure of the ordained public authority, for whatever reason, to provide a level of public transportation which is acceptable to the population.
The initiative in providing “individually-owned private vehicles for hire” had its origin in the 1950s-60s with:
The eventual acceptance by the PNM Government of the Jessop report which had recommended the scrapping of the Trinidad Government Railway system.
The discontinuation of the privately-owned Sam’s Bus Service and the Arima Bus Company Service.
The report of a 1961 OAS mission which, in effect, endorsed the Jessop recommendations and itself recommended that the then developing “individually-owned private taxi for hire” service be properly regulated.
For those who can do so, it will be recalled that the first “individually-owned private vehicle for hire” made its appearance in the Belmont area in the early 1950s, using the three-passenger Ford Prefect car.
This was due to the discontinuation of the Tram-car/Trolley-bus Services by the then Port-of- Spain City Council. I recall a not dissimilar situation in London, England, when a privately-owned, somewhat clandestine mini-cab system grew up alongside the well-run London Transport Underground and bus services, although for not quite the same reasons as our own. It will be recalled also that the current maxi-taxi arrangements owed their present configuration to then Minister John Eckstein.
It is accepted, even by the most vehement opponents of their regularisation, that the “PH” transportation sub-sector provides a service, the absence of which would leave several areas of the country without any form of reasonable transport, due to the failure of the conventional taxis, the maxi-taxi and, in particular, the Public Transport Service Corporation to provide any services. This is due, predominantly, to the terrain, the sizes, the method of construction and maintenance of roads in some areas, some of which had been allowed to become uncontrolled unplanned squatter enclaves. In the circumstances, the present unregulated and illegal “PH” service has been filling a recognisable void for several years.
Much of the opposition to the initiative taken by Minister of Works and Transport Jack Warner appears to be based on this illegal status of “PH” operators. The view has been expressed that the minister’s proposed action smacks of endorsing this illegality. But is not the purpose of this initiative the removal of this illegality? One suspects, however, that the true basis of the opposition lies in the fear of the maxi-taxi operators, in particular, of losing the cartel status which they now enjoy in the absence of a properly operating publicly-owned bus service. One would venture to observe nevertheless that, given the lawlessness and indiscipline which are displayed by some “PH” drivers, opposition in some quarters is not without foundation.
Having accepted that the “PH” phenomenon is nevertheless a lasting feature on the transportation landscape of the country, the following suggestions are proffered:
“PH” taxis should be zoned and confined to their specific areas in the same manner that maxi-taxis are now zoned. Should this provision be breached, penalties, not excluding the possible suspension or revocation of permits to operate, must be imposed.
“PH” vehicles must be properly identified, even to the point of introducing a new-type number plate, eg “M.”
“PH” vehicles, when plying for hire, should be driven by their owners only. There should be no sub-letting of a “PH” vehicle.
“PH” cars should carry insurance which would cover the liability of their passengers adequately.
“PH” drivers/owners should be subjected to the same tests of good character as obtain for conventional taxis.
Finally, given the public service nature of their operations and the physical wear and tear on their vehicles, consideration could be given to fixing the level of motor vehicle taxes for “PH” vehicles somewhere between what is applicable to the privately-owned vehicle and the conventional taxi.
Errol OC Cupid
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