The decision to legalize PH taxi-drivers in Trinidad and Tobago has been the centre of controversy since it was first mentioned in July of 2010.
Chae-Marie Cooper took to the streets to hear the different sides of the story.
“PH” drivers operate like legal taxi drivers but without the necessary licensing approvals including having their license plate changed from “P” to “H”.
President of the Maxi Taxi Association of Trinidad and Tobago (M.T.A.T.T.) Eon Hewitt says “What is good for the goose is good for the gander,” the taxi drivers say they are not being treated fairly while citizens have mixed feelings.
Last year Warner announced the Government’s plan to legalize the operations of PH taxi drivers. Warner had said that the measure would be implemented with the aim of assisting commuters in several remote districts across the country. He said the drivers would be issued special licenses that would allow the passengers to benefit from insurance coverage and it would also mean that they would not have to change their license to H. The M.T.A.T.T. was the first to oppose.
Chairman of the Route 1 Maxi/Taxi Association and President of the M.T.A.T.T. Eon Hewitt believes that Warner needs to find a different approach in dealing with the situation. He thinks Warner believes that PH drivers have been around for so long that they cannot be stopped and so they should regulate them. He says this however, would have a negative effect on both taxi and maxi drivers. He said while they are against the move in principle address the situation. He believes that everyone should go through the same legal processes before they are allowed to ply their vehicle for hire and he hopes that Warner takes all the different aspects into consideration. He noted that before someone can obtain his/her taxi badge he/she must have had his/her license for at least three years. He says many PH drivers are as young as 18 and 19 years of age. He said this would mean there would now be a number of inexperienced drivers on the road. Another disadvantage, he says, is the fact that maxi and taxi drivers are restricted from certain towns/cities that PH drivers are allowed to go into. Hewitt said taxi drivers go through many rigorous inspections of their vehicles at licensing offices and they also pay much higher insurance than private vehicles. He said Taxi drivers have to present a certificate of character in order for them to obtain their badge while the character of some of these PH drivers is questionable. He said even the simple things like dress code needs to be looked at. Mr. Hewitt said he suggested to Mr. Warner that they set up a committee to deal with PH drivers wanting to become taxi/ maxi drivers. This committee would help them evaluate the individual as some persons may have a criminal record because of petty crimes which should not disallow them from earning a living. He said there have been many talks and rumours about the law and what it would entail but without official documents again all they can do is wait. He said the Minister first said that the law would take effect on February 1st, 2011 the date was then moved to June 1st, 2011. The association is tired of all the promises and no action. He said he doesn’t understand how the legislation could have been ready by June 1st when the bill has not been brought to parliament.
Today there is still no official word on whether the new measure has started.
Hewitt stressed that the situation was one that needs to be carefully examined.
Taxi drivers have protested on many occasions and they have called on the Minister to meet with them and discuss the specifics of the bill however they claim that they are being left in the dark.
Trakkernews interviews a few of them who declined to have their names published. One taxi driver says he understands that it is hard sometimes as he himself was once a PH driver but he decided to do the right thing and get his Taxi badge and so he believes others should do the same. One North/South taxi driver said that he believes that an injustice is being done because all the requirements that were necessary for taxi drivers would no longer be relevant.
The M.T.A.T.T. however is not the only one that is affected. The legalization of PH drivers also affects commuters. They however have mixed views on the situation. Marlon Moore of Princes Town said that he believes they should legalize PH drivers because “everyone deserves to make a living”. He said while he understands that the taxi drivers would be affected in some way, taxi drivers mostly work peak hours while PH drivers work after hours and also on weekends and so most times commuters are grateful for their services. Arion Rodney of Sangre Grande however strongly disagrees with the move to legalize PH drivers. He says by legalizing PH drivers other laws would have to be altered as well. He argues that it also does not ensure the safety of passengers because the background of these individuals is unknown. He believes that the logical thing to do is simply get their taxi badge.
The Maxi/Taxi drivers have sought legal advice and are taking legal actions to ensure that there is equity in the processes for all parties involved.
Legalizing PH drivers would mean more availability of transport for commuters but it also means that many taxi drivers are at a disadvantage. Is it right to compromise the law in order to accommodate the travelling public? Or should the process of obtaining a taxi badge be re- evaluated?