Taxi drivers believe that the authorities are contributing to the growth of crime in Trinidad and Tobago by allowing “PH” drivers to continue to operate illegally.
This point was raised by T&T Taxi Drivers’ Network president Adrian Acosta during a news conference called to address the issue at the Macaulay Community Centre in Claxton Bay yesterday.
Acosta said taxi drivers were upset by statements made by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley over the weekend, that he was not in favour of legalising the use of pepper spray for women who travel.
Calls for legalising pepper spray have again come in the wake of the murder of San Juan teenager Ashanti Riley. A PH driver is alleged to have picked up Riley before she went missing and is one of three suspects police say can help them solve the case.
Yesterday, Acosta extended condolences to the relatives of Riley. He also said the authorities need to be proactive and not wait until tragedy strikes again to react. He said women should be given some opportunity to protect themselves, as is done in developed countries. He said his association had been lobbying for years to get “PH” drivers off the road, adding all they get are excuses from the authorities, who seem bent on allowing this illegal practice to expand.
Acosta said neglect by the authorities had led to persons using 12-seater-buses registered with T and P plates as “PH” taxis. He said “PH” drivers also operate in areas where taxis cannot go and some have also formed illegal “PH” taxi stands. However, he said complaints to the authorities have fallen on deaf ears.
He said the problem was exacerbated under the People’s Partnership government (2010-2015) when then works minister Jack Warner announced that he wanted to make “PH” drivers legal. At that point, he said the situation got out of hand and worsened.
Highlighting some of the taxi drivers’ issues, he said they have to compete for space on taxi stands with “PH” drivers who threaten them and operate like thugs. Acosta said taxi drivers are also being threatened by “PH” drivers when they go out to work at night. He said recent ride-sharing operations are also a form of organised “PH” activity that should not be allowed to operate.
“It is unfair for others to be doing the same work you are doing and making the same money and doing it illegally. We have made many complaints to persons in authority, whether it be the Minister of Transport, police, traffic wardens and we seem to be getting nowhere,” Acosta said, noting persons wishing to ply a vehicle for hire should get their taxi badges and operate lawfully.
He said the authorities are turning a blind eye for too long and the public may be travelling with “PH” drivers who may have criminal connections.
“We are putting the travelling public’s lives at risk when we travel in “PH” cars. We as taxi drivers have to go through a rigorous process to be a taxi driver.”
Acosta said he has witnessed mothers putting their teenage daughters into “PH” cars and urged them to be extremely careful.
“Whether you are eating a food or providing a service, you should be doing it in the right way, not by watering the process that we went through to be taxi drivers, you are putting the travelling public at risk.”
Acosta said taxis are inspected annually and pay a higher rate of insurance. He said to compound their woes, the Licensing Office is taking long to renew taxi badges, which he said can take between two weeks to three months. Acosta said his association had written to the Ministry of Transport suggesting it zone taxis so they could operate in certain areas. He said they also want a system where taxis could be easily identified via a system of route numbers. Acosta said there should also be the reimplementation of a statement of fares.