Regulator nabs few offenders as Uber cuts into taxi market
Four Jamaicans have been prosecuted for operating Uber services without a public passenger vehicle (PPV) road licence in the last four months, the Transport Authority (TA) has revealed. In an email response to questions by The Gleaner, acting...
Four Jamaicans have been prosecuted for operating Uber services without a public passenger vehicle (PPV) road licence in the last four months, the Transport Authority (TA) has revealed.
In an email response to questions by The Gleaner, acting Corporate Communications Manager Merdina Callum said the vehicles were identified while TA personnel were conducting covert operations.
The offenders were each fined $20,000 for driving without a PPV road licence, and $2,000 for driving without PPV insurance.
Callum said they pleaded guilty in the courts and two of the prosecuted drivers have since applied for a road licence.
However, the tepid enforcement success suggests that either such breaches are rare or that the public-sector regulator has found it difficult to track and prosecute unlicensed, or ‘robot’, Uber cabbies who may be operating in the shadows.
But the likelihood of the latter is greater amid Jamaica’s permissive informal structure in which rogue operators often outcompete licensed stakeholders.
Uber disclosed mid-June that it had recorded more than 200,000 leases in the high-density parishes of Kingston, St Andrew, and St Catherine.
The most popular destinations have been Liguanea Plaza and Sovereign Centre, with its peak hours being 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the rideshare company said.
“We have more than 14,500 users in Jamaica who have taken at least one lease, and they have done so with 29 safety tools at their disposal. Our first year has been a wonderful experience offering a safer and reliable option for users to move around the cities,” the company said.
The Uber application is available to Jamaicans through a vehicle-with-driver lease agreement.
Those data issued by Uber, which could not be corroborated by the Transport Authority, however suggest that the rideshare company could be eating deeply into the taxi market share.
The Transport Authority revealed Thursday that 2,300 route taxis were on its records for the Kingston Metropolitan Region, St Thomas and St Catherine, but only 1,900 have renewed their licences to date.
When operations began last June, Uber had not approached the TA for any approvals – standard operating procedure for public transport cabs and buses.
NO ONGOING TALKS
The authority had cast scrutiny over Uber’s claim of a leasing agreement, saying that “the provision of public-transportation services, irrespective of the terminology used, once deemed functionally as such, requires a road licence from the Authority”.
Callum told The Gleaner that there were no ongoing talks with Uber.
Globally, Uber taps private motor vehicle owners who have challenged the market share of traditional taxi operators.
In 2021, some 86 hackney carriage and 1,372 route taxi operators gave up their transport licences.
Callum said many of the route taxi operators remain in the sector and the TA’s special operations team usually targets these unlicensed cabbies to regularise their operations.
The TA said there is no evidence to show that formal public passenger operators have been transitioning to Uber.
“However, there is no prohibition to a licensed public passenger vehicle operator being contracted to Uber or any other taxi company, once they adhere to the licensing requirement as stated at Section 61(1) of the Road Traffic Act,” Callum explained.
She added that PPV operators surrender their road licences for varying reasons, including a lack of interest in operating in the sector, the replacement of a vehicle, and submission of a new application. Other factors include the business not being operational or that the vehicle is in the garage for repairs.
Number of people who have given up their transport road licences in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
Hackney carriages – 78
Route taxis – 695
Hackney carriages – 109
Route taxis – 1,241
Hackney carriages – 86
Route taxis – 1,372