Trinidad and Tobago
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Gangsters ‘pulling bull’

Newsday Commuters board a
Commuters board a "PH" taxi in Port of Spain. - ROGER JACOB

IF “PH” DRIVERS already have a bad rap, that’s about to get even worse.

On Thursday, senior police officers warned that gangs have turned their attention to the taxi business, running fleets of cars to serve their nefarious ends. The claims were immediately backed up by taxi drivers themselves, who disclosed even legitimate drivers are running scared.

“They have these people, especially young people, whom they are giving vehicles to work and they pay for it,” said Supt Terrence Nowbutt of the police’s North Central Division. “While they are working on the road, they are feeding back the gang information, for instance the location of the police and other information the gang may need to carry out their illegal activities.”

Gangs steal vehicles, he said, and put them to work on taxi routes and to commit robberies or murders.

The problem is so bad that the usual battle for turf at designated taxi stands between registered taxis and people pulling bull has turned in a dangerous direction.

Christopher Lara, the president of the San Juan Taxi Association, said, “Sometimes they park on the stand and if you blow your horn and say, ‘You are not supposed to be here,’ they threaten you and ask you if you want to die.

“They are frightening legitimate taxi drivers from coming out and working late in the evening. These ‘PH’ cars have literally taken over the taxi stand.”

These disclosures will come as no surprise to members of the public. Over the years “PH” drivers have been associated, whether rightly or wrongly, with criminality. Such drivers have been fingered in instances of rape and kidnapping, as well as the robbery of passengers and worse.

At the same time, these drivers have themselves come under fire, literally, falling prey to bandits. And because registered drivers sometimes withdraw from routes perceived as too dangerous or refuse to offer services when it is late, these drivers often offer vital services to commuters.

Efforts to regularise “PH” drivers have been made over the years, including by former works and transport minister Jack Warner. The complication of the rise of ride-share apps has also attracted the attention of officials of the current administration with questions about whether various smartphone-based services fall within the regulatory framework. The public sometimes turns to ride-share apps for reasons of safety, but ironically, these drivers too are often targets, and can be fearful of taking “rides” in perceived crime hotspots.

It is this country’s complex crime problem that forms the real nub of the problem of the regulation, or lack thereof, of taxis. The public, already desperate for safe transport options, cannot be exposed to further peril, and multi-sectoral co-operation is essential to address this frightening problem.