“Inadvertently, [Uber] has created just the type of opportunity for the thousands of ‘pirate taxi’ drivers and owners to forcefully make their case for regularisation and legalisation of the necessary public service that they have provided to our population for decades, and claim their right to earn an honest legal living by providing a useful public service at reasonable cost.”
The following Letter to the Editor was submitted to Wired868 by Kelvin Scoon:
Uber’s attempt to add Trinidad and Tobago to its hugely successful worldwide traffic system gives Trinidad and Tobago an opportunity to apply creative and innovative thinking to a multifaceted problem that we have dodged for more than 30 years, and to bring order and legality to a chaotic but very useful sector of our inadequate public transport system: all this at no cost to government
I am a senior citizen. I no longer drive. I cannot afford to pay the exorbitant fares for private taxi hire.
In order to get around I am forced from time to time to use our now ubiquitous pirate taxi service. But every time I reluctantly enter a ‘pirate taxi’, I am aware of the risk I am taking. Because, I am not covered by insurance in case of an accident. I am not even sure that there isn’t a possibility that I could be charged for aiding and abetting an illegal activity.
This illegal ‘pirate taxi’ system has been allowed to flourish for decades, with only sporadic attempts at control, because all our governments have been acutely aware of their inability to provide an efficient inexpensive public transport system.
They settled instead on turning a half blind eye on the ‘pirate taxi business’, after the successful introduction of the very useful maxi taxi system, and then got hung up exploring the possibilities for copying one of the expensive mass transit systems from economies much larger than ours. But then oil and gas money was no problem.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurial Trinbagonians saw the need for more seats, faced up to the small risks of a traffic ticket now and then, and the ‘pirate taxi’ business exploded with no official concerted attempts at control.
The current political reality makes any government very reluctant to take strong legal action to end the practice, which will not only clog up the already burdened courts, but will put thousands of ‘PH’ drivers, owners and small entrepreneurs on the breadline even as the economy falters and the ranks of unemployed grows.
Jack Warner early in his tenure as Minister of Transport tried but failed, because he saw it as a chance to earn ‘brownie points’ for his new political career, rather than an opportunity to engage the population, his government colleagues and the public service technocrats, in coming up with creative solutions.
Thousands of working people, students, and seniors like me are left with no alternative, but to take the unnecessary risks.
Enter UBER: a brash super rich, young multinational corporation, that has successfully disrupted established taxi business around the world and is willing to test the resolve of a micro state.
Inadvertently, this has created just the type of opportunity for the thousands of ‘pirate taxi’ drivers and owners to forcefully make their case for regularisation and legalisation of the necessary public service that they have provided to our population for decades, and claim their right to earn an honest legal living by providing a useful public service at reasonable cost.
What will it take for us to seize this opportunity? The situation calls for political will on the part of the government in power, to decide to finally seek constructive solutions; for technocrats in government and business (insurance) to assemble the data on current income loss and future income opportunity; and for parliament to debate with deliberate honourable intention, to find creative and innovative solutions to legalise the practice of private vehicles for hire in Trinidad and Tobago, thus joining the rest of the world.
There will be some additional benefits that may not have been considered in the past:
•Freeing up police from what is really a nuisance duty to concentrate on more serious crime problems;
•Freeing the courts from dealing with a whole range of petty traffic matters,
•Creating a new source of government revenue from the issuance of new PH badges, vehicle licensing and inspection.
•Transforming thousands of PH drivers into proud law abiding citizens, who would no longer have to experience the anxiety and stress of dodging police every working day
•Removing the risk that thousands of citizens face every day when going about their business, travelling in unlawful vehicles.
•Assuring visitors that they will get the same type of safe reasonably priced service that they get in other countries.
It is now incumbent on all the interest groups to agitate and negotiate for this change.
On the government side, legalising brings the rule of law to a large and prominent business activity, and has the possibility of adding much needed revenue.
And, otherwise, it means legalised status for PH drives while thousands of ordinary citizens can go about their business without the fear of not receiving compensation in the event of accident.
With government consumed with other weighty matters of state, it may be time to reconvene the groupings of PH drivers who were disappointed by Jack Warner’s failure to lead the charge with his initiative in 2010/2011.