Sun | Jan 23, 2022

Transport operators decry police abuse

Published:Tuesday | November 30, 2021 | 12:10 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter
Jamaica Urban Transit Company buses parked outside the Portmore depot after the drivers staged a protest on Monday. Bus drivers of the state-owned company withdrew their services after a colleague was dragged from a unit by the police last Friday and slapp
Jamaica Urban Transit Company buses parked outside the Portmore depot after the drivers staged a protest on Monday. Bus drivers of the state-owned company withdrew their services after a colleague was dragged from a unit by the police last Friday and slapped with charges.

Citing the controversial arrest and charge of a Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) driver that sparked a strike on Monday, transport association heads criticised the police for an abuse of power that has stoked bitter division on the nation’s streets.

That alleged overreach has long plagued cabbies and private bus drivers, who pledged solidarity with state transport operators who ground sections of the metropolis to a halt as hundreds of commuters in the Corporate Area and St Catherine were stranded in the morning rush hour at the start of the workweek.

Louis Barton, president of the Jamaica Association of Taxi Owners and Operators, told The Gleaner that cab and bus drivers had so often been subjected to unprofessional conduct by the police that members of his bloc rarely report infractions.

“There are no recent reports of police abuse, but probably one of the reasons why there is none is because it is so commonplace nowadays that the operators don’t even complain about it again. They just try to resolve it themselves, which is the wrong way to do it,” Barton said on Monday.

He called for improved and constant dialogue between transport associations and state authorities to reduce the incidence of conflict.

Raymond Bynes, president of the All-Island United Taxi Association, said the police have exploited their authority to issue traffic tickets and occasionally engaged in physical abuse, particularly in disputes centred on an absence of, or limited, designated loading zones.

“It is mostly happening in the downtown area ... . Not even the Transport Authority like the police, because that is how dem mek dem living,” Bynes briefly told The Gleaner, hinting at police corruption.

The industrial action was triggered after a policeman allegedly parked his private vehicle in a bus lay-by in North Parade, Kingston, and insisted that a JUTC bus driver reverse to allow him to exit. But after the bus driver reportedly refused to reverse out of concern that pedestrians might be crushed, other policemen who were allegedly summoned boarded the bus and hauled the driver out of the vehicle.

According to Cecil Thoms, communications manager of the JUTC, the driver was charged with breaching the Disaster Risk Management Act, disobeying a constable’s orders, and resisting arrest.

Attempts to contact the police for comment were unsuccessful.

Vincent Morrison, president of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE), is among those who flagged the police action as wrong.

“Based on what I see on the telephone, the police actions seem to be out of character and not consistent with the training that they receive in dealing with these matters ... . The police must understand that they are peace officers,” Morrison said.

JUTC workers are represented by UCASE and the University and Allied Workers Union.

One JUTC bus driver from the Portmore depot, who asked to remain anonymous, described the treatment of the driver involved as “wicked and uncalled for”.

“No matter the offence, dem never have to pull the man out so,” he said.

Commuters from the high-density, sprawling community of Portmore also voiced their concern.

“If that is the case, where the driver was dragged from around the steering of the bus, I believe the police should have handled the situation in a better way. Now, we have to take transport with taxis that some of us don’t even trust,” a woman who was waiting on a JUTC bus told The Gleaner.

Operations resumed sometime after 10 a.m. yesterday and the full fleet of buses was back on the roads by the start of the evening peak hours.

ainsworth.morris@gleanerjm.com