Hundreds of taxi drivers representing 40 associations across the country are planning a mass shutdown if the government fails to investigate and stop alleged corruption at the Ministry of Transport licensing offices.
President of the T&T Taxi Drivers Network Adrian Acosta led a protest outside the San Fernando Licensing Office on Tuesday saying they were fed up of the bobol.
Chanting, "Stop the Corruption now," Acosta said over the past year, license officers have been stopping taxi drivers on the roads and ordering them to return to the licensing office for inspection and reclassification.
He noted that taxi drivers spend up to $200,000 to purchase vehicles so that they could carry maximum passengers. However, he said vehicles which were initially classified to carry seven passengers were now being reclassified to carry five and six passengers.
With the continued rise of fuel prices within the past three years, Acosta said the reduction in the number of passengers was hitting them hard in their pockets.
"We had four increases in gas in the last two years now they want to take away a passenger from our vehicle that is costing us almost $100 a day. We have been given no proper explanation as to why the vehicles are being reclassified. The Ministry of Transport has not dealt with this manner in an appropriate way. There has been no investigation. There are officers in the licensing office who want us to pay bribes so that our vehicles could be classified for seven passengers," Acosta said.
He noted, "We want to know why some drivers are being classified to carry seven passengers while others driving the same type of cars, the Serena and the Voxy, are being classified for six passengers. "
He also said that the PH drivers had more rights than legitimate taxi drivers.
"There are some streets in Port of Spain that taxi drivers are not allowed to enter but the PH (Private Hire) drivers are free to do what they want. Why is there no clamp down on PH drivers? If they want to pick up passengers then let them go and get a taxi badge," Acosta said.
Public Relations Officer of the Association Calvin Barker said also said it was taking up to three months for them to get a taxi badge.
"Why is this taking so long? Usually, it takes a few days but now we have to wait months. This has to stop," Barker said.
Another driver Sheldon Phillip said the Licensing Authority gives the drivers a chit to indicate that they have applied and are awaiting the processing of taxi badges. However, he said if stopped on the road the chit is worthless and cannot save them from getting a ticket for driving without a taxi badge.
The drivers said they are mobilizing to shut down all taxi operations in T&T unless the government intervenes.
However, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan urged taxi drivers to get evidence to prove corruption.
"Corruption is a two-way street so we are urging people not to participate in corruption or pay bribes. If you have information on corruption, bring it to us with evidence, we will investigate and act on it," Sinanan said.
With regard to delays in processing taxi badges, Sinanan said these were enforcement issues.
"There are unethical things going on in the Licensing Office. We need the assistance of the public to get evidence but enforcement is not for the Minister," Sinanan said.
He said these matters should be dealt with by Transport Commissioner Basdeo Gosine.
However, calls to Gosine's office line went unanswered.
Messages could not be left for Gosine as his mailbox was full.
- by Radhica De Silva. Photo by Kristian De Silva.