The Senate agreed Wednesday on new rules for privately owned public service vehicles, in particular route taxis, better known as ZR vans, even as they admitted that it would be a challenge to actually enforce the regulations.
Lawmakers passed the Public Transport Miscellaneous Provisions Act to hit offending route taxi and minibus operators in their pockets rather than with criminal prosecutions. Among its provisions is a new three-strikes rule of progressive penalties from fines to the revocation of permits.
As she guided the regulations through passage in the Upper Chamber, acting Leader of Government Business in the Senate Senator Lucille Moe recounted a litany of woe brought on by the privately-owned PSVs.
She said: “We aware of the many complaints about infractions by privately-owned minibus and route taxi operators, such as not stopping at bus stops, overloading, going off route during morning and evening rush hours to avoid traffic jams, but not everyone in this sector is reckless.
“One of the problems is that there are so many owners of these PSVs that implementation and interpretation of rules vary among them, but we want to bring some order to the sector.
“So we have called for designated parking areas for these vehicles, as well as decriminalising offences but regulating them by imposing a three-strikes rule: The first offence, they pay a fine of $1,000; the second offence, they pay a $2,000 fine, and on the third offence, they may have their permits or licences revoked.”
Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn commended Government for introducing the new system but “wished them luck” in actually getting it to work, noting that the operators’ payment system was one of the reasons some of them acted irresponsibly on the roads.
Taking this point further, Senate Deputy President Rudolph Greenidge said: “The owners of these vans demand that they receive a certain amount of money per day, for example, $500 and only after you have made that can you think about making a dollar for yourself. That is why some of these drivers are so reckless on our roads, so owners must share the blame as well, as they are aiding and abetting and exploiting that bad behaviour.
“It is not practical for us to regulate that each ZR be owner-driven, because some owners have more than one vehicle, some are elderly, some have other jobs but it should not be too difficult for us to legislate that every ZR driver drives that vehicle as the servant or agent of the owner, and as a consequence, the owner is liable for any infractions of the driver.”
Senator Rudy Grant suggested an alternative payment system which he felt would help curb the “hustling” that characterised the public transport. He said: “Why not look at a salary and commission, not only to give them a basic income, but they can also earn a commission on an excess amount? I hope that we can have some discussion on this.”
Senator Greenidge also addressed the opposition of minibus owners to the drafting of maxi taxi (ZM) operators and tour coaches (BT-registered buses) to assist with public transport during the COVID-19 restrictions. They were introduced as buses were being required to run at 60 per cent capacity.
He said: “The ZMs and BTs were put on routes to assist the passengers because the vans on those routes could not use their full capacity, but now they are back on track, they are insisting that the BT coaches and ZMs be kicked to the curb.
“I would hope they are not saying this out of greed. The ZM and BT work is predominantly tourist-related, but there aren’t any tourists now, and lest we forget, the ZM and BT drivers are our neighbours and need to live too.”