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Transport operators urged to end protest

By Clinton McGregor/Halshane Burke 

There is a call for transport operators to end their protest action and allow for continued discussions with the government over provisions of the new Road Traffic Act.

The call has come from President of the National Council of Taxi Associations (NCOTA), Allan Blair.

There was a wave of protests early Monday morning as taxi and bus operators across several parishes stayed off the job.

The public passenger vehicle operators are calling for the government to address several issues they say have been negatively affecting their operations.

But speaking with Radio Jamaica News Monday afternoon, Mr. Blair made it clear that the protest was not sanctioned by NCOTA, which represents 20 taxi associations across the island. 

"The NCOTA was not a part of any meeting for a withdrawal of service or a demonstration today. While we have issues to deal with the transportation industry, we don't think a demonstration at this time is the right route to go. So we have taken steps to meet with the government and for us to discuss issues that we have currently," he told Radio Jamaica News.  

He said NCOTA will be pushing the government to make significant changes to the new Road Traffic Act, not limited to a relaxation of the child seat requirement. 

Opposition Spokesman on Transport Mikael Phillips has also called for transport operators to have dialogue with the government instead of resorting to protest action.

Mr. Phillips suggested there is need for a "comprehensive and overall look by the government at the shortcomings within the public transport sector" but said the transport operators should take their issues to the government in a coordinated manner. 

He added that Transport Minister Audley Shaw is expected to address the controversy around the new Road Traffic Act in Parliament on Tuesday, so the operators "should at least wait and see what the government says". 

Members of the security forces were called on to clear roadblocks mounted along the Round Hill and Hopewell main roads in Hanover on Monday morning.

However, there were no arrests.

Radio Jamaica News spoke with one of the taxi operators who said the protest is more than just about the seatbelt or child seat controversy.

He noted that several provisions in the new law are of major concern to the transport operators. 

Among them, he pointed to the possibility of being fined, confined and accumulating demerit points if he owns a bus and transports an item for his personal use but does not have a Commercial Carriers licence.   

In St. Catherine, taxi operator Shawn Miller told Radio Jamaica News that he and his colleagues are contending with the heavier fines imposed under the new Road Traffic Act, as well as what they term police harassment and the absence of designated drop off and pick up points in Spanish Town.

Schools turn to online lessons 

Schools across the island faced various challenges as a result of the strike action by some taxi and bus operators on Monday.

The Ministry of Education said all regions were affected to varying degrees, with some schools opting to engage with students virtually.

In Clarendon, the few students who turned up to schools were told to return home and receive instruction online.

Region 2, which covers St. Thomas, Portland and St. Mary, reported minimal disruption in instruction as all schools were able to have face-to-face classes, with the exception of Happy Grove High which delivered lessons virtually.

In St. Catherine, though all schools were in full operation, most reported low attendance. At Guy's Hill High, students and teachers engaged in online instruction.

The other regions reported that some teachers and students turned up late for school due to difficulty obtaining transportation, however, normal activities were not severely disrupted.