'Registered robots!' - Taxi companies provide space for ‘white plate’ vehicles to operate
With concerns mounting about the number of women being abducted and raped by criminals posing as cab drivers, licensed taxi companies are adding to the disorder on the nation's streets by allowing operators of private motor cars to register with their services and offer charter rides to members of the public.
This is putting members of the public at risk as cars, which are not registered to carry public passengers (hackney carriage), and which do not have red licence plates indicating that they are taxis, are often dispatched when calls are made to these companies.
Persons who take these unregistered taxis would find themselves not covered by insurance if they are injured while travelling in them.
The Transport Authority is well aware of this illegal activity and, with more than 10 taxi companies registered in the Corporate Area alone, has warned that these entities could face criminal sanctions if they continue.
"The operators may not have passed the criminal background check; they may not have public passenger vehicle insurance; may not have a valid driver's licence; and may be part of a criminal gang," Petra-Kene Williams, communication manager at the Transport Authority, told The Sunday Gleaner.
"The Transport Authority is extremely concerned about the practice of hackney carriage companies dispatching white-plate vehicles to commuters to provide public passenger transportation.
"The Transport Authority has not granted permission to any hackney carriage company, or its members, to provide services without the prescribed road licences," added Williams.
She warned that "where persons are found to be operating private motor vehicles as hackney carriages, they will be prosecuted by the police or Transport Authority and the motor vehicle seized in accordance with the law".
According to Williams, road licences are offered based on assessment of the demand and supply of the service, and that last year the majority of the 700 road licences issued were given to previously unregistered hackney carriage operators.
BUSINESS MUST GO ON!
Last week, a manager at one of the more popular taxi companies defended its policy of accepting private motor vehicle operators into its fleet.
He argued that despite the law, the company has to employ white-plate vehicles to keep its business afloat.
"The Transport Authority has its business and we have a business to run. We have to do what we have to do because we have bills to pay," said the manager whose identity is being withheld.
He said the taxi operators pay a mere $15,000 to join his service, and an even smaller monthly fee to keep operating, as he sought to justify the company accepting as many vehicles as available even if they are not licensed to operate as taxis.
According to the manager, the company implements its safety checks, including that the vehicle should be no more than 10 years old, but admitted that it does little background checks on the drivers.
"We try to, but that it is not something anybody can do, because even the police are getting bad," said the manager.
"A person can be good today and tomorrow they are bad. You only hope that they maintain their status of what they are today, and will continue in good grace. We not going to put anything on anybody," he added.
NOT BRANDED UNTIL LICENSED
Efforts to contact the manager of another prominent company were unsuccessful, but an operator there said it ensures that all the vehicles it brands are licensed to carry public passengers.
She said it is common for taxi companies to accept vehicles which are not licensed to operate as taxis, but these are not branded with the company's logos until the operators get the relevant road licences.
"A man have to try to survive, so what you expect? The road licences are issued at a certain time each year so not everybody is going to be able to get the road licences in time to get the red plate.
"So the companies have to work with it until ..." added the operator, even as she underscored that at her company every operator must have red plates on their vehicles, pay the relevant fees and undergo background checks before they can operate.
In the meantime, the traffic police are struggling to clamp down on these taxis which operate as part of companies.
According to the police, these vehicles are usually not overloaded and the drivers do not stop to solicit passengers, so it is difficult to identify them as they have the cloak on anonymity provided by the taxi companies.
Transport Authority on hackney carriages taxis
A hackney carriage is a vehicle used for carrying passengers for hire or reward and which stands or plies for hire on thoroughfares or places frequented by the public. The vehicle should carry no more than three passengers, who should be travelling together.
Owners of taxis, while operating a taxi service, are not permitted to use bus stops or terminals as these are designated for the use of stage and express carriage only.
Hackney carriages must have:
- Red PPV licence plates
- A globe bearing the word 'Taxi' or 'Hackney' on the roof
- A Transport Authority sticker on the windshield
- Transport Authority driver identification in the vehicle
- The driver must wear a Transport Authority identification badge
- The particulars relating to fares, mileage and charges legibly printed in letters of not less that one inch in height, on the outside of the front doors;
- The driver of every taxi should be in possession of a PPV driver's licence