By Brian Bonitto
Associate Editor--
Auto & Entertainment

Friday, April 24, 2020

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DEPUTY Superintendent of Police (DSP) Winchester Watson --- commanding officer for Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB) --- is encouraging taxi drivers and public-passenger bus operators to adhere to the new passenger restrictions recently introduced to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“We are appealing to the bus drivers and taximen, that extra dollar you're trying to get may put you and you're entire family at risk. Please remember social distancing,” DSP Watson told the Jamaica Observer's weekly Auto magazine earlier this week.

Last month, Prime Minister Andrew Holness introduced several restrictions, including: all Jamaica Urban Transit Company will only carry seated passengers; and, taxis will be required to carry one fewer passenger than they are licensed to.

As of Thursday morning, Jamaica had 252 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus and six deaths.

According to DSP Watson, infractions of not following the passenger limits still occur on the island's major road network.

“In cases, we have identified them in places such as Cross Roads and Half-Way-Tree, we [the police] would stop them and say: 'Listen to me, one need to step out',” said Watson.

“If we stopped a man like along the Bull Bay main road [in rural St Andrew], we wouldn't want to take out a passenger there, because we may endanger the passenger's life. So you just warn the passenger as well as the driver,” continued.

In a recent interview, Egerton Newman, president of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Service, said several taxi operators were defaulting on their bank loans due to the decline in commuters.

The senior cop said prosecution was not the first option for his team.

“What we do is to warn people. It's all about safety right now, it's not about prosecutions. We're not going around and charging them, we try to lessen that somewhat. We have to be reminding people you can be hurting yourself and others at the same time,” he said.

“It wouldn't be a ticket. Under the Disaster Risk Management Act, it would be straight prosecution because, for taxis, the directive is that they are to carry one less. For buses, no standing passengers, everyone should be seated. So we'll just continue to appeal.”

Breaches of the Disaster Risk Management Act can attract prison time and a maximum fine of $1,000,000.

Formed in August 2018, the PTSEB is a merger of the JCF's Motorised Patrol and Traffic and Highway divisions aimed at improving social order and safe public spaces; improving compliance to the Road Traffic Act; and reducing crime in public spaces.

The division's headquarters is on Elletson Road in Kingston.

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