Irate bus and taxi operators burnt tyres to choke off key roads in Portmore, St Catherine on Monday, as a protest by public passenger vehicle operators threatened to mushroom into chaos and mayhem by late evening.
The tyre fires billowed black clouds of smoke, sending firefighters scrambling into action and creating a major traffic jam in the Sunshine City on Monday evening.
Several arrests were made across the parish as tempers flared amid the withdrawal of services by transport operators who are calling on the authorities to grant them a traffic ticket amnesty.
Head of the St Catherine South Police, Senior Superintendent Christopher Phillips told Loop News that seven arrests were made across the division for several criminal damage and public disorder offences since the operators withdrew their services early Monday.
SSP Phillips said that there were at least two fires lit at different sections of George Lee Boulevard Monday afternoon.
“We put out one fire on the roadway in the vicinity of MegaMart, but what we’re picking up is that people are going around lighting these fires in other sections of Portmore. We have a report of another fire in the Bayview area, but we’ve mobilised a team to deal with these fires and the lawlessness that is being displayed in the area,” Phillips said.
The transport operators have withdrawn their services and are threatening to continue for another two days, claiming that the punitive nature of the road traffic ticketing system is unfair, especially with the added threat of incarceration for unpaid tickets.
But it appears that the Government will be giving no quarter to beleaguered taxi and bus operators.
A release from the Office of the Prime Minister categorically condemned the strike, with the Cabinet emphasising “that the Government and the country will give no support for lawlessness and disorder and welcomes the significant rejection of today’s protest actions and demands”.
“All well-thinking Jamaicans are concerned that these actions have not only demonstrated a disregard for the need for citizens going about their lawful business to get to work and school but have also demonstrated complete disdain for law, order and discipline,” the release said.
The Government appears to be sticking to its guns that no traffic ticket amnesty will be granted to the irate transport operators.
“We advise persons who have broken the law and, as a result, have unpaid tickets to pay their fines as ticketed,” the release stated bluntly.
Meanwhile, Egerton Newman, president of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS), blamed the statement from the Cabinet for the general chaos, saying that the tone of the release “added fuel to the fire”.
“The release from the Cabinet put more fuel to the fire and what we’re seeing now is indicative of the anger of the operators. It is unfortunate because the release from Cabinet doesn’t speak to the challenges of the sector,” Newman said.
He took exception to the accusatory tone of the release.
“We made a request for amnesty, not granted; instead, all the release speaks to is lawlessness in the transport sector. But what of the general lawlessness in Jamaica? The problem is everywhere, but the release speaks to arresting us instead of arresting the problem, ” he said.
Newman said that there is still hope and that TODSS will be able to broker an agreement with the Minister of Transport, Audley Shaw.
“There will be a meeting at 8:30 tomorrow (Tuesday) at his office, and a team will meet with him, but we cannot say if the operators will stay off the roads during that meeting. I encourage them to hold, but it is really up to them if they plan to end the strike. The Cabinet’s statement skirted the issues and is a total disrespect to the transport sector,” Newman said.