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Transport thunderbolt!

Over 14,000 owners and operators forced out of sector due to COVID-19

Staff reporter

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The data shared by Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS) Project Director G Dwight Pusey was startling.

More than 14,000 public transport owners and operators, he said, had been pushed out of business over the past year due to hardships associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Pusey, who was addressing the organisation's management meeting held last Tuesday in the boardroom of the Half-Way-Tree Transportation Centre in St Andrew, said the figure was a compilation of data by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica and TODSS.

His aim in presenting the number was to help convince TODSS members to get vaccinated.

“Thousands of members are out of work. It is in our best interest to get vaccinated for a level of normalcy. With over 14,000, that is not normal. We are not forcing you, but encouraging. The PSOJ (Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica) is quite interested because we carry their staff to work. We are suffering, so it is really encouragement from us,” he said.

According to Pusey, the PSOJ is one of his association's main partners in its vaccination campaign and TODSS expects the private sector umbrella group will accommodate his members and their relatives at PSOJ vaccination blitz sites islandwide, once TODSS' vaccination campaign gets under way.

He also said claims by taxi and bus operators that TODSS President Egerton Newman has been trying to force them to be vaccinated were not true.

Newman, in his address, stated that public transport owners and operators are finding it difficult to pay monthly instalments on their motor vehicles and household bills due to a reduction in business caused by the pandemic.

“They can't pay their bills. They can't pay for their cars. The cars are in lots right now and they can't pay, so the loan sharks or the banks take back the vehicles. It's a very serious problem we are having, so getting back to normal is key,” Newman said, underscoring the importance of having industry players buy into the vaccination process.

Also adding to the conversation was Nicola Brown, acting operations manager for the Transport Authority, who admitted she had initially been against the vaccine, but after some of her relatives and friends began dying from COVID-19 her views changed.

“I, too, was an anti-vaxxer until I started seeing my friends and family members die. It was then I realised the effects of COVID-19,” she said.

“We have to check documents as Transport Authority inspectors. We know the adverse effects, so I am in total agreement with the initiative and I hope that it will go the way it should and that the operators will take up the request to vaccinate so that we can go back to order,” she said.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force's Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch also endorsed the initiative.

Deputy Superintendent Winchester Watson said that the police, like drivers and conductors, are at high risk of COVID-19 infection due to their interaction with the public.

“We encourage persons to make themselves, the environment, and their colleagues safer. Wherever the crowd is, we have to make it safe. If a vaccination blitz is going on, we will have to be there to ensure everything goes well with traffic and otherwise. If there is disturbance, we will make ourselves available to make it safe,” Watson said, while encouraging TODSS to keep a record of its members who have already taken the COVID-19 vaccine, so that the organisation can know who to target during its campaign.

According to Newman, the PSOJ has agreed to work with transport operators, allowing them to utilise their vaccination sites over a four-month period.

“The idea is to get 600 persons vaccinated on the first day. We have a four-month campaign with the help of the PSOJ and other partners. Where the PSOJ can't find space, the Ministry of Health can guide us. We cannot force anybody to take the vaccine. All we can do is encourage. We have until March next year to get 55 per cent of our people vaccinated,” Newman said.