Sun | Mar 24, 2019

Carolyn Cooper | Route taxi drivers need urgent care

Published:Sunday | January 13, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Driving a route taxi is a highly stressful occupation. Many drivers don't own the taxi. They are accountable to an employer who expects them to bring in a whole heap of money each day. This means making as many trips as quickly as possible and packing in the passengers. The urgency to make fast money is what accounts for much of the erratic behaviour of route taxi drivers.

Every chance they get, route taxi drivers break the rules of the road. When we see them acting crazy, we tend to joke about it. We say, "Wat a way im a drive like mad man!" We don't mean it literally. It's just that the taxi driver is behaving a little, or a lot, irrationally. And, yes, the crazy taxi drivers are often male. Females usually respect the rules of the road.

We don't seem to realise that some of these crazy route taxi drivers are actually mad. Stark, staring! The things they do are clear evidence that they are not playing with a full deck. Take, for instance, refusing to wait their turn in a long line of traffic! Waiting is an occupational hazard. It's a complete waste of time, as far as they are concerned.

 

DOWN THE WRONG SIDE

 

If a route taxi driver is caught in traffic, he simply races down the wrong side of the road, hoping that no oncoming traffic will turn up. If an unfortunate vehicle tries to come down on its side of the road, it is forced to wait until the taxi driver manages to squeeze his way back into the line of traffic. If nobody is willing to let him in, he just rides the pavement on the other side of the road. And as soon as that nuisance vehicle passes, the taxi driver races right back down the wrong side.

This kind of repeatedly irrational behaviour is an obvious sign of madness.

Another crazy way in which many taxi drivers avoid long lines leading up to traffic lights is to go into the right turn lane, which tends to be short. They have absolutely no intention of turning right. As soon as the right turn arrow comes on, they slide to the left, ahead of the traffic waiting to go straight ahead.

It gets worse. I've seen a taxi driver move to the left from the right turn lane and across two lines of waiting traffic; and then make what would have been a left turn if he had been in the left turn lane to start with. In fact, it was all one long slide to the left! That's pure lunacy.

 

COMMON ASSAULT

 

And as for breaking red lights! That's a common assault. A red light does not mean stop. It all depends on how the taxi driver is feeling at the time. If he's not in a big rush, he might decide to stop. But if he's desperately running down a fare, too bad for the red light! Then amber means speed up. So what if the taxi driver doesn't make it through the intersection before the light turns red? A nuh nutten! The only colour that most taxi drivers respect is green.

Another dangerous habit of route taxi drivers is stopping anywhere without any notice. This is not entirely their fault. I was surprised to read in the Road Traffic Act that it is illegal for route taxis to use bus stops or stations. This makes no sense. It would be much safer for passengers to be able to get in and out of taxis at designated stops. Now, it's pure chaos.

The most alarming thing I've seen a route taxi driver do is to make a U-turn on a pedestrian crossing in Liguanea. That's going to the very depths of lawlessness. A pedestrian crossing ought to be a protected space guaranteeing the safety of its users. No pedestrian expects to meet a taxi in the middle of the crossing.

Then the median next to this pedestrian crossing has been recently dug down. This, apparently, is to widen the crossing and make it easier for vehicles to make the U-turn. I am appealing to the relevant government agency to ensure that the median is fixed. Perhaps, a turnstile will have to be installed in the middle of the crossing!

 

LONG-TERM STRESS

 

Many route taxi drivers need professional help to recover from long-term stress. But some of them don't even know they are unwell. They've been operating under so much pressure for so long, they don't realise that their behaviour is irrational. Breaking rules has become normal.

We cannot allow this illness to go untreated. Route taxi drivers provide an essential service. Without them, commuters would have a much harder time getting around. But they have to be much better regulated. The Transport Authority does offer one-day training courses through the HEART Trust for public passenger vehicle drivers and conductors. These courses should be mandatory for route taxi drivers. But when would they find the time? That's at such a premium in this business.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.