Demming: Isn’t it time to move past PH-taxis and create comprehensive transit system?

Every time I board a ‘PH’ taxi, my heart races because I am not sure I can trust the driver not to harm me. This experience is not unique to me. Several women and girls have the same experience but are faced with no alternative because we have a dangerous, unregulated, chaotic transportation system.

Legally our country prescribes that only vehicles with an ‘H’ as the first letter of the registration plate can be used as taxis, and the drivers must have a special licence which designates them as being allowed to operate such vehicles.

Photo: A taxi driver in San Fernando waits for passengers during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

People operating their personal vehicles as PH-taxis have neither the correct drivers’ licence, nor the correct registration for their vehicles.  The recent brutal rape of an 18-year-old Venezuelan reminded me that successive governments continue to preside over this travesty.

Over many years I have read and heard comments by transportation specialists, Dr Trevor Townsend and Dr Rae Furlonge, about modernising our transportation system. One of the basic fixes they advocate is the establishment of a transit authority to manage the nation’s transportation system.

How difficult can that be? The issue has come before the Parliament in different iterations but with few outcomes. 

A quick search of the edited records of parliamentary debates reveals several discussions and commentaries about transportation but very little is accomplished.

In the absence of regulation, the illegal PH-Taxi system thrives. One former Minister of Works and Transportation even advocated for its legalisation. 

Photo: A taxi driver plies his trade.

Undeniably the PH-taxi industry provides a service but the cost of providing that service is tremendous. The public has no way of knowing if the PH-taxi is road worthy, if it is properly licensed, if the driver has a criminal record or is a sex offender, or even if the person is medically fit and emotionally stable. 

On the other hand, boarding an ‘H-car’ provides some assurance that the driver has gone through a process and is legally authorised to operate a taxi—but there just aren’t enough of them to match the needs of the travelling public.

The fixes to this historical problem are actually easier than we believe, but because of the societal and political entanglements regarding transport that have developed over the last 60+ years, the will to resolve the problem has been very weak.

We know that the creation of a transportation authority will begin to order the current chaos. A major responsibility of such an authority would be to develop a comprehensive transit system. 

Most developed countries around the world all have some form of transportation authority; why not us? The reliance on spontaneous growth as a strategy has not worked, so our next option is to formalise the systems, structures and processes around transportation.

Photo: Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan (right) talks to reporters at the commissioning of a bridge on Mamoral Road.
(via Ministry of Works and Transport)

If this all sounds bureaucratic and time consuming, it need not be in this age of technology and digitisation. All that is needed is the willingness to re-imagine and redesign our transportation system to serve the needs of our citizens. 

A soft entry point could be to refurbish our bus shelters, create specific taxi stops, and insist that only they be used as the drop off and pick up points for the travelling public. In Grenada, this is already in practice. 

Another soft solution might be an app to track the PTSC buses, so a citizen can plan to use the facility knowing for certain that the bus will arrive. 

I am confident that eventually our country will implement solutions, but until then my heart will continue to race and my level of anxiety will increase every time I am forced to use a PH-taxi in the absence of safe and reliable public transportation. 

Maybe all the victims of rape or robbery via PH-taxis should consider suing the state.

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  1. The Motor Vehicle Authority (MVA) Bill that was brought to the Parliament in 2015 dealt with the ‘PH’ system and other forms of transport. We dealt with maybe 7 or 8 different types of vehicles, including limousines and other private forms of transport. ‘PH’ was being classed as a rural means of transport.
    The current AG, then a Senator, vigorously opposed the Bill. Even though we got it passed in the Lower House it failed in the Senate. It required a Constitutional Majority vote.

    • Mr. Cadiz
      Maybe you are ideally placed to mount a campaign to ensure that the Bill is revised and passed. Citizen engagement outside of the Parliament is necessary.

  2. Culture, DD, is quicksand. We still have no answer to the question my brother first asked at least three decades ago: how does the culture escape from itself?

    In other words, even if we did all those very salutary, very laudable and very apposite things you recommend we do, do you really think there would be no more PH taxis?


    • Great question and I cannot provide a definitive answer. We owe it to ourselves to put the systems, structures and procedures in place to normalize the way we do business. Peter Drucker was right when he said that “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast” but just as culture is learned, it can be unlearned or supplanted by new and different expectations. The biggest challenge to this government is to convince the population that they mean what they say. Culture change is possible but it begins with the leadership.

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