President of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS), Egeton Newman, has alleged that 77 transport operators have been murdered since the start of the year.
“In any sector, this murder rate is considered a crisis in public order. This amounts to about 10% of all murders in Jamaica, at a rate of 6 transport operators murdered every month, or more than one murder every week,” Newman said, gravely.
The figures were disputed by the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
For the period January 1 to August 21, 2023, seven taxi operators were reported murdered whilst actively operating their vehicle as a taxi. Two were shot and ten robbed of property to include the vehicle they were operating.
For the period, 46 persons who were not reported as taxi operators were victims of murder, however, they were killed ‘whilst awaiting or in transit of a taxi”
“20 others were shot and injured , while 23 were robbed,” the release said.
Newman admitted that official statistics of the murders of transport operators do not exist in any professional record keeping system, but the sector has its own informal accounting system.
“Every day that a transport operator leaves home, there is a high probability that he may be killed within the next seven days. This situation is an additional pressure on the family and colleagues of every taxi operator in Jamaica.”
However, Newman warned that ‘these murders are just the tip of the safety and security pyramid within the transport sector.”
Newman bemoaned the “informer fi dead” culture where individual operators are afraid to report acts of violence against themselves or their colleagues because of the threat of retaliation
“The open secret of extortion that takes place in all major towns and parish capitals in Jamaica is high on the pyramid of the transport sector safety and security pyramid. This is at crisis level and there seems to be no solution,” he said.
Newman said that anecdotal reports that on one particular route, each of the estimated 20 legal operators have to pay $5,000.00 daily.
“If they report this to the police, they are usually contacted verbally or physically by the same extortionist who was accused originally,” Newman said.
Newman said that the extortionists who prey on bus operators have a strict accounting system to record extortion fees, similar to legitimate business enterprises.
“In a case that was reported to us, the operator paid his daily extortion fees. However, his bus was taken out for repairs for three days. When the bus returned to its route, the extortionist demanded that the three days must be paid. This was reported to the owner who got a visit to his garage from the extortionist the following day. The owner had to pay for the three days,” Newman said.
Newman outlined another case in which a rural operator/driver was approached by an extortionist.
“He had a gun and showed it to the criminal. The criminal stood down, but the operator had to make calls to the “area leader” so that he could pass the area on his return without being attacked. If he did not know the area leader his bus and passengers could have been attacked,” Newman said.
These criminal activities incur a tremendous financial cost to operators who depend on the legal system to protect themselves and their colleagues, he added.
“This financial burden cannot be passed on to the passengers. Payment for crime cannot be used in this calculation for fares, and rightly so. The operators end up hugging up the extortion and other criminal costs. This situation encourages further criminal activity in the sector and the wider Jamaican society,” he said.
Newman is calling for the government to purposefully examine the safety and security in the transport sector with the aim of making targeted improvement.
Some of the recommendations include: identifying the high crime areas relative to transport operators; identifying the areas that the extortionist work and remove the environment that allows them to be so brazen; investigate and setup a special police force to defend and protect transport operators, similar to the Praedial larceny unit; and to place safety and security as a priority in Minister Vaz’s Transportation Steering Committee.
“This is not all that is necessary, but it is a start to a better transport sector for the operators and the commuting public,” Newman said.